Diving with Turtles!
Location: Lighthouse Reef Atoll - Belize
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Today we started our early morning dives at a dive site called Dos Cocos. That means "two coconut trees" in Spanish. They call it Dos Cocos because there used to be two coconut trees on a small island nearby. But the hurricanes have blown the coconut trees down. They still call this place Dos Cocos anyway.
Dos Cocos is a beautiful place to dive. We saw lots of pretty corals and fishes. The best thing that we saw today was a hawksbill turtle! Hawksbill turtles, like all sea turtles, are endangered animals. That means there are not very many of them around.
This hawksbill turtle was very friendly. She let us swim with her for at least 15 minutes. She came so close to us that we could have reached out and touched her. But we didn't try to touch her because that might have bothered her.
She went up to the surface to breathe. She took two breaths. Then she dove back down to the reef, about 35 feet down. She swam along the reef. She didn't seem to be looking for food because she passed the main things hawkbills like to eat: sponges. Maybe she wasn't hungry.There are lots of sponges here at Dos Cocos and she did not stop to munch on any.
We are pretty sure that this was a female hawksbill. Males have longer tails than the females.
Here are some facts about sea turtles:
The largest of all the sea turtles is the leatherback. It can grow to be 6 feet long and weigh 1300 pounds. The two smallest are the Kemp's ridley and the olive ridley and they grow to be 2 feet long and weight up to 100 pounds. All of the sea turtles are very rare and we were very lucky to see the hawksbill.
We know that it is a hawksbill because it has a hooked beak, a narrow head, and a beautiful shell called a carapace. People used to kill hawksbills so they could take its shell and make it into combs and barrettes and jewelry. But now it is against the law to harm or kill a sea turtle of any kind.
When a mother sea turtle is ready to lay her eggs, she swims to shore and crawls on the sand until she gets far enough out of the water that the high tide won't wash away her eggs. Then she uses her hind flippers to dig a large hole. She lays her eggs in the hole and covers them up with sand. A hawksbill will lay about 150 eggs at a time. Then the mother will crawl back to the water and swim away.
Her eggs will hatch 50 - 70 days later. The baby hawksbill turtles are light to dark brown. They scurry quickly to the sea and swim away. They will stay in the open sea for several years until they get big enough (about 10 inches long) to come back to the shallow reefs to live. When they are young they will eat small squid and shrimp. When they are grown up and living on the coral reefs, they eat mostly sponges.
One more thing: if you see a turtle that lives its life on the land, it is not a turtle. It is a tortoise. A tortoise can pull its head and feet and tail under its shell. A sea turtle can't do that.
Wayne & Karen Brown
Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize
Position: 17º 13' N / 87º 36' W
Air Temp: 87ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds and calm seas.
Water Temp: 81ºF
Karen on her scooter following a hawksbill turtle. Notice how the pattern on its back helps the turtle blend into the background.
Sea turtles use their front flippers to pull their bodies through the water. They use their back flippers to steer and to stay level in the water.
You can tell this is a hawksbill sea turtle by the hooked upper beak that resembles the beak of a hawk.