Chelonia mydas Photo Claire Sunquist ©
Green turtles have always been valued for their meat and the gelatinous "calipee" - a vital ingredient in turtle soup - that comes from the cartilage cut from the bones of the bottom shell. Their name comes from the green color of their fat.
The green turtle is found throughout the tropical and subtropical oceans of the world. It is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle. Females nesting on Florida beaches have a carapace length of about 1 meter and weigh approximately 136 kg. Green turtles are herbivorous and feed during the day in shallow waters where sea grasses and algae are abundant.
Most green turtles nest in the Caribbean; of those that nest in the US most nest in Florida. They require open sloping beaches with minimal disturbance for nesting. Females nest every two to three years and usually lay three to five clutches in a nesting year.
Females usually return to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Incredibly, they not only come back to the same beach, but they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested. This is not a particularly good strategy in a world where tropical beaches are being rapidly transformed into walls of high-rise hotels and condos. A female green turtle hatched on Daytona Beach 30 years ago returning to nest on the same beach will today find herself looking at a dune less beach walled with high-rise condos.
Nearly all the green turtle nests in Florida are on the Atlantic coast, mostly in the less developed areas of Brevard, Indian River, and Palm Beach counties. No one knows why, but for as long as data have been collected, nest numbers seem to alternate between low numbers of nests one year and high numbers the next year. For instance, in 2004 the Florida Statewide Nesting Beach Survey counted 3,577 green turtle nests, and in 2005 the count was 9,642 nests.
Green Turtles are fully protected by State and Federal law. They are threatened by accidental capture in gill nets, collisions with boats, net entanglement, and loss and degradation of nesting beaches.
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