Wildlife & Habitat

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Sandy Point's small size (327 acres) belies its importance as the largest nesting beach in the U.S. and its Territories for the world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback.

  • Leatherback Sea Turtle

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    The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), sometimes called the lute turtle or leathery turtle or simply the luth, is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth-heaviest modern reptile behind three crocodilians.

     
    The leatherback has several characteristics that distinguish it from other sea turtles. Its most notable feature is the lack of a bony carapace. Instead of scutes, it has thick, leathery skin with embedded minuscule osteoderms. Seven distinct ridges rise from the carapace, crossing from the cranial to caudal margin of the turtle's back.

     

     
    The entire turtle's dorsal surface is colored dark grey to black, with a scattering of white blotches and spots. Demonstrating countershading, the turtle's underside is lightly colored. Instead of teeth, the leatherback turtle has points on the tomium of its upper lip, with backwards spines in its throat (oesophagus) to help it swallow food and to stop its prey from escaping once caught.

     

    For more information on the Leatherback sea turtle check out our fact sheet! (english/spanish)

  • Green Sea Turtle

    The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also known as the green turtle, black (sea) turtle, or Pacific green turtle, is a large sea turtle of the family Cheloniidae. It is the only species in the genus Chelonia.



    This sea turtle's dorsoventrally flattened body is covered by a large, teardrop-shaped carapace; it has a pair of large, paddle-like flippers. It is usually lightly colored, although in the eastern Pacific populations parts of the carapace can be almost black. Unlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle, C. mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses. The turtles bite off the tips of the blades of seagrass, which keeps the grass healthy.




    The diet of green turtles changes with age. Juveniles are carnivorous, but as they mature they become omnivorous. The young eat fish eggs, mollusks, jellyfish, small invertebrates, worms, sponges, algae, and crustaceans. Green sea turtles have a relatively slow growth rate because of the low nutritional value of their diet. Body fat turns green because of the consumed vegetation.




    For more information on the Green Sea Turtle check out our fact sheet! (english/spanish)

  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle

    The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae.

     


    The hawksbill's appearance is similar to that of other marine turtles. In general, it has a flattened body shape, a protective carapace, and flipper-like limbs, adapted for swimming in the open ocean. E. imbricata is easily distinguished from other sea turtles by its sharp, curving beak with prominent tomium, and the saw-like appearance of its shell margins. Hawksbill shells slightly change colors, depending on water temperature. While this turtle lives part of its life in the open ocean, it spends more time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs.

     

    While the hawksbill sea turtles mainly feed on sponges found on coral reefs, they also feed on crustaceans, algae, and fish. They are prey to large fish, sharks, and humans. The hawksbill sea turtles are endangered mainly due to human impact. These sea turtles mainly stay close to shorelines as this is where sponge-bearing coral reefs can be found, as well as beaches that provide nesting sites.

     

    For more information on the Hawksbill sea turtle check out our fact sheet! (english/spanish)