If you are a sea turtle lover, then the small fishing town of Watamu at the north coast of Kenya, would be a great place for you to watch these ancient and fascinating creatures that have been around for over a million years – even outliving dinosaurs.
These creatures are the reason Watamu has been designated as one of Kenya’s most important marine turtle nesting areas and is internationally recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
It is from here that you can behold one of nature’s great moments as hundreds of hatchlings emerge from the sands to breathe Mother Nature’s precious life-supporting oxygen for the first time.
The best time to get there would be between the months of April and August when the nesting season is at its peak. Nighttime provides a perfect opportunity to observe these curious creatures because it is the time when the hatchlings come to the surface to avoid (or minimise) predation. The heat from the sun, at this time, is also minimal.
But why are turtles curious?
- The females come out to the sandy beaches to lay their nests – usually in the same beaches where they themselves were hatched. They can therefore swim thousands of miles, guided by the earth’s magnetic field, to build their new nests in the same locations of their origin.
- Usually the female turtle swims to the seashore, digs a nest which is about a metre deep, lays up to 100 eggs which she buries in the sand and goes back to the sea – work done! The eggs take between 50 to 70 days to hatch. Sadly, only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood, making the turtles an endangered species.
- Besides their amazing ‘homing device’, sea turtles never nurse their young ones. Their connection to their young ones ends with the laying of eggs at the beach.
- They can comfortably drink the salty sea water and excrete the excess salt through a gland by their eyes that makes them appear as if they are crying.
- Some species are known to swim to levels deeper than whales. The largest of them, the leatherback, is known to reach depths of 1,200 M.
- When the hatchlings emerge from their nests, they seek out the brightest light in the horizon to guide them to the sea. This usually would be the moon but if a human with a torch happens to be around the beach at the time the hatchlings emerge, then this would thoroughly confuse them since they would tend to follow the light from the torch.
- Turtles have the ability to stay for long hours underwater before they come to the surface for air. The highest recorded time is 33 hours. Because of this extraordinary anaerobic capacity they can survive longer undersea unlike most mammals. They are able to achieve this amazing feat through their anus!
- A turtle’s anus is able to pick up oxygen through a pair of sacs (bursae) opening off the cloaca (combined digestive and urogenital chamber). Up to 68% of the turtle’s oxygen uptake is accomplished through these sacs. Other animals that have this rare gift include the dragonfly nymphs and sea cucumbers.
Are there some other curious turtle traits you know of that you want to share? Leave your comments below.