Sea turtles in Guadeloupe Archipelago (Tortues marines sur l’archipel de Guadeloupe)
Sea turtles are part of the heritage in Guadeloupe Archipelago, they testify how healthy marine ecosystems are. Five out of seven species identified all over the world are in the National Park of Guadeloupe Archipelago. Here they are:
- Green sea turtle
- Hawksbill sea turtle
- Leatherback sea turtle
- Loggerhead sea turtle
- Olive ridley sea turtle
However, only the first three are coming to lay eggs on Guadeloupe archipelago beaches. Let’s find out a bit more about them.
- Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)
The green turtle is a large, weighty sea turtle with a wide, smooth carapace, or shell. It heights up to 150 centimetres for a maximum weight of 400 kilograms. Even though the green turtle has a greenish skin, its heart-shaped carapace is brown, grey or olive. Juvenile green turtles are omnivores and eat invertebrates like crabs, jellyfish or zooplankton. Once adults they become herbivores and feed on sea grasses and algae. To nest, female green turtles dig a hole in the sand with their flippers, fill it with a clutch of 75 to 200 eggs, cover the hole and return to the sea, leaving the eggs to hatch for about two months. They can also lay several clutches before leaving the nesting area. Green turtles rarely lay their eggs in Guadeloupe Archipelago (less than an hundred per year) but when they do it occurs between May and October.
- Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Hawksbill sea turtles are the most common in Guadeloupe Archipelago. They height up to 120 centimetres and weight between 60 to 70 kilograms. While young, their carapace is heart-shaped and as they mature it elongates. The colour of their carapace range from dark to golden brown with streaks of orange, red or black. Hawksbills are omnivores and eat molluscs, marine algae, crustaceans, fish and jellyfish. Mating occurs every two to three years and takes place in shallow waters close to the shore. The nesting season happens from June to September in Guadeloupe Archipelago. Female hawksbills nest at night, laying three to six clutches per season at two weeks intervals. The average life span of this sea turtle is about 30 to 50 years.
- Leatherback sea turtle (Demochelys coriacea)
Leatherbacks are the largest and oldest turtles on Earth, growing up to two metres long and exceeding 900 kilograms. Unlike all other sea turtles, leatherbacks don’t have a hard shell. Their carapaces are dark grey or black with white or pale spots, large, elongated and flexible with 7 distinct ridges running the length of the animal. Furthermore, the carapace does not have scales except in hatchlings and is composed of a layer of thin and rubbery skin to the touch. This flexible carapace allows them to dive to great depths, which is not the case for other sea turtles. In terms of diet, leatherbacks can consume twice their own body weight in prey per day but they have delicate, scissor-like jaws that enable them to eat only soft-bodied invertebrates such as jellyfish or tunicates. Female leatherbacks nest between four to seven times per season with an average of 90 eggs for each nest. Contrary to other sea turtles, female leatherbacks tend to change nesting beaches. Female leatherbacks nest in Guadeloupe Archipelago beaches relatively infrequently.
These 3 species of sea turtles are protected by ministerial decree since the 14th of October 2005 and are also listed on the endangered species list.