Several species of sea turtles are known to exist in the Gulf of Eilat: the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead sea turtle, and the leatherback sea turtle. Green and hawksbill turtles can be viewed at the underwater marine observatory.
Turtles belong to the reptile family together with snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and others. They are equipped with lungs so they need to surface from the water to breathe. When resting, they surface approximately every 5 hours, and when they are busy searching for food or for a mate, they surface approximately every 10 minutes.
On land, their sight is very limited, but it is fairly effective in the sea. Likewise, on land, their hearing is weak, whereas in the sea they are sensitive to movement. They have a well developed sense of smell, and this helps them to find both animal and plant food. Each of its jaws is covered with a stiff sharp bone ridged pouch that enables it to cut its food efficiently.
The male species has a fairly long tail which serves as its sex organ. The different types of turtles all have one thing in common, all the females lay their eggs on the beach. The turtle breeding season (courtship and mating) continues from March through May. After mating, the female searches for a protected place to lay her eggs.
The females prefer to lay their eggs in coarse sand (gravel), with 1 – 2 mm grains, at a depth of 30 – 35 cm, and with a sand temperature of approximately 280.
The eggs are laid beyond the maximum backwash of the waves to prevent the nest from being flooded. The humidity around the eggs is close to 100%, and this prevents the eggs from drying up.
The females dig an 80cm hole in which they lay 30 – 130 eggs. The eggs are white, round, and soft skinned. Spawning takes place from May through September.
Sea turtles do not incubate their eggs. As soon as they have finished laying their eggs, they cover the holes with sand using their rear limbs, before returning to the sea, and with this they end their maternal role.
The heat of the sun warms the eggs. The incubation period of the eggs continues for 50 -70 days until the young turtles are hatched, depending on the temperature. At a temperature of 260 the incubation period is 67 days, whereas the incubation period is reduced to approximately 55 days at a temperature of 330.
The temperature also influences the sex of the turtles that hatch. When the temperature of the nest is 260 only male turtles hatch, whereas when the temperature of the nest is 300 or higher, only female turtles hatch. The offspring all hatch at the same time, and they climb to the surface together. During their hatching they face a danger of dehydration, as well as of being devoured by birds or terrestrial animals. Hatching during the night hours reduces the danger of predators. The babies are “guided” towards the sea by the reflection of the horizon.
Only one per cent of the hatched turtles reach adulthood.
During the early stage of their life, they usually feed on fish, crustaceans, seaweed, and weeds.
No eggs are laid in our area as we do not have the conditions required by female turtles.
The Hawksbill Turtle
The hawksbill turtle reaches a length of 80cm, and a weight of 140kg. The shape of its head is pointed, and its shell is rough. It feeds on almost anything: sea anemones, mollusks, fish, and seaweed. Their life span is 50 – 150 years.
The Green Turtle
The green turtle reaches a length of 120cm, and a weight of 340kg. During its youth, it is nourished by the same food as the hawksbill turtle, and when it matures it becomes a vegetarian, feeding on seaweed and algae. Their life span is 100 – 200 years.