Adult Sea Turtles
Once sea turtles mature, both males and females will leave coastal areas and migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to breeding areas where they will mate and begin the reproductive stage of their lives. Females will mate with multiple males, storing sperm to fertilize multiple clutches of eggs that will be laid over the course of a couple of months. Only females come ashore to lay eggs, usually near the area where they hatched perhaps two or more decades earlier.
Most females wait for the cover of darkness before leaving the water to crawl up the beach to find a suitable nesting spot. Once a spot has been chosen, the female carefully and methodically digs a nest with her rear flippers in which she will lay as many as 100 or more ping-pong ball sized eggs. This process may take a few hours or more.
Return to the Ocean
Once the female finishes laying eggs, she will cover and disguise the nest before returning to the water. Some species will nest several times during the nesting season. The mother never sees her hatchlings once they are born, roughly six weeks to two months later.
When the nesting season ends, females will return to foraging grounds, not nesting again for 2 to 3 years. During this time they will continue to mature and forage, replenishing the stores needed to endure the next reproductive season. If turtles are able to survive despite the many challenges they face, some researchers believe they may live to be as old as a century.
Did You Know?
It is not known exactly how turtles are able to navigate to the beaches where they were born to nest after so many years, but there are a number of theories to explain this amazing phenomenon including the use of the earth's magnetic field (kind of like a "mental GPS").
Adelita, a female loggerhead, was the first marine creature tracked across the entire Pacific Ocean. She was tracked for a year covering 12,000 km during her migration from Mexico to Japan, the place of her birth.
Except for the Kemp's ridley, adult females do not nest every year. Depending on the species, they will mate and lay eggs every 2-4 years. Males however, may mate with females every year.
Unlike other species, the Australian flatback sea turtle does not migrate to mating and nesting areas. They mate and nest only in Australia.
The time to sexual maturity (adulthood) ranges between approximately 10 and 50 years depending on the species of sea turtle.
What is SEE Turtles?
We're a non-profit organization that protects sea turtles through conservation travel and volunteer tours, our Billion Baby Turtles and Too Rare To Wear programs, our education programs, and by promoting inclusivity in the sea turtle community. Our award-winning programs help save sea turtle hatchlings on important nesting beaches around the world, work with the tourism industry to end the turtleshell trade, and educate students and travelers about how to help save sea turtles. Learn more about our organization.
Photo credits: Neil Ever Osborne