Division of Ecological Salvation Presents:
Red in Tooth and Claw!
SEA TURTLES OF DIEGO GARCIA!
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There are seven species of Sea Turtle, and two are quite common on Diego Garcia, Greens, mostly on the sea-side, and Hawksbills, which could be found in the lagoon year round, often at high tide up inside the various barachois, feeding on the algae that lived on the coral shelves.
Of course, just where you find them doesn't define the species! Here's a comparison of the two species you can expect to find in the waters around DG:
It's an endangered species, but found in all the oceans of the world, in tropical waters. It has been found as far north as Alaska in the Pacific. It's the smallest of the sea turtles, growing to only about 3 feet long, but packing a lot of meat in that short distance - adults typically weigh between 75-125 pounds! Young Hawksbills are 'tortoise-shell' in color, and adults are dark greenish-brown. They eat sponges, sea turds, shell fish and sea urchins. Supposedly adults eat the same, but I have personally sat on the beach and watched adult Hawksbills chow down on algae on the rocks in the lagoon. In any event, they like to live right up in the reefs and rocks near the shore.
First off, it's skin and shell are colored BROWN. It gets the name Green from the color of it's fat. If you've ever had turtle soup, it's green because it's rendered fat from Green Sea Turtles. They eat this soup in the Med, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and across the Indo-Pacific - i.e., where you find Greens. The Filipinos and Mauritians on the contractor staffs can tell you how to cook a big turtle... But don't! The adults are longer and much, much heavier than their cousins the Hawksbills. A large adult will be 4 feet long and weigh over 500 pounds. Youngsters eat jellyfish and any other sea creatures that they can catch. Adults eat sea grasses and algae.
Now, unless you are pretty experienced with sea turtles, you might confuse a Hawksbill and a Green. But there are identifying characteristics of the two species that will help (we won't get into the comparison of sexes, as you shouldn't be that close to the damn things to tell):
- 4 pairs of sharp, overlapping (aft-over-fore) coastal scutes (the plate-like armor on the shell between the center-of-the-back scales and the row of edge scales).
- The aft coastal scutes on each side connect in the middle of the aft back.
- A narrow jaw with a distinct overbite
- 2 claws on each front flipper.
- 4 coastal scutes, none of which overlap or connect.
- A single large scale at the base of the spine.
- A serated jaw.
- Only 1 claw on each front flipper.
Turtle Soup... Or Turtle Rescue? You Be The Judge!
Occassionally sea turtles could be found stranded by the retreating tide, especially Greens on the ocean side. Remember, the coral shelf went out for hundreds of yards - if stuck, the turtle only had one chance - to wait and hope it didn't cook before the tide came back in.
Although this surely has been going on since the age of the dinosaurs, no sympathetic person could stand seeing one stuck in hot, shallow water with the sun beating down, and the tide not due in for several hours. Here are some a typical rescues:
Typical sight. A young Green Sea Turtle in a tide-pool, getting hot and trying to find shade under the rocks.
Well meaning rescuers! Now, none of you bleeding heart green-peacers give me a hard time about this. The turtles were NOT harmed in any way, and released into the sea! Eco-freaks aren't the only people authorized by God himself to save defenseless creatures!
GREEN SEA TURTLES - NESTING
The Green Sea Turtle, an endangered species, nests regularly on the sea-side of Diego Garcia. The come in seasonally, and unlike their harrassed cousins in populated areas, come ashore to nest in broad daylight as well as at night. A stroll along the beach after a really high tide would reveal tracks and it was easy to find nests (which neither I nor anyone else I knew, did not open!). A couple months later, you would find the nests opened by the hatchlings, with the leathery eggs "shells" all over the place, and little tracks leading down to the water, just like on a Jacques Costeau TV show. Not everyone was so unlucky to only find the tracks and nests. Since the Greens would come up to nest during daylight, some folks were fortunate enough to see the event! Here are some photos from 2002 by Bob Ralph showing the arrival, the act, and the departure!
Note the flotsam on the beach and in the nesting area. NONE of this stuff is from DG. It washes up from ships and shores thousands of miles away!
here's momma on her way up to the Scavy.
is definitely a Green - note the tail plate and the scutes don't overlap.
Here she is, digging in to lay the eggs. How sad that the countries around the IO use it as their dumping ground and poor ol' momma has to nest amongst the cast off sneakers, styrofoam, fishing bouys, and water bottles.
Mission Accomplished! The whole thing only took about half an hour. Now back to the ocean for another year before she comes back!
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This, and everything else I write and every photo I produce is copyrighted by Ted A. Morris, Jr.