Sea turtles are large marine animals, so you may expect them to live for a long time. But have you ever noticed how difficult it is to tell how old a sea turtle is?
You may wonder how long do sea turtles live in the wild?
Sea turtles live on average up to 30-50 years in the wild. Some sea turtles can also live for 150 years. It can be hard to determine a sea turtle’s age from appearance. Many life factors affect how long sea turtles live. These factors include pollution, predators, and human activity.
You might be asking yourself why sea turtles live for a long time and live longer than humans.
This article will explain why a sea turtle’s life span is lengthy. This guide will also go through how they live longer and what can affect their life expectancy.
Let’s dive in.
How long do sea turtles live in the wild?
Sea turtles can be complex animals to track their age. It’s thought they can live for 30 to 50 years in the wild.
Marine biologists can measure the arm bones of the sea turtle, leading them to think some can live for 150 years. As tracking technology hasn’t been around for 150 years, it isn’t confirmed.
But some sea turtles don’t reach that age. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood because of the harsh environment.
Since they are born out of the water, they must make their way back, which kills most of them.
When the turtles reach the water, they can survive much longer. They take a long time to mature and can go long periods without food or water.
The population of sea turtles has been declining in the past years. Their survival depends on many factors like poaching, pollution, and predation.
All this can affect a sea turtle’s lifespan. Let’s go into more depth about these factors.
Why Do Sea Turtles Die?
Poaching is a significant problem and a danger to the population of sea turtles. Sea turtles are often over-exploited for their meat, shells, and eggs.
Because of unprotected beaches, sea turtle’s nests get destroyed. The eggs get stolen, and the poachers suffer from no consequences.
Poachers hunt the turtles at night when turtles lay their eggs on the beaches.
Many sea turtles get captured for their meat, which is tasty and beneficial. Indigenous tribes ate them for protein, but now sea turtle meat is popular worldwide.
The kidney and liver are often used in soup, along with oil from their fat used in medicine.
Shells of sea turtles get sold as well. Used in jewelry, medicine, and decor, turtle shell designs are popular in foreign markets.
Turtles are over-exploited to meet the demand for turtle shell jewelry and accessories. It would help if you tried to avoid vendors selling these items to prevent the extinction of sea turtles.
Sea turtles are often kept as exotic pets and sold in illegal marketplaces. Sea turtles are not suitable pets as they have adapted to survive in the sea.
They also get larger as they grow, making them difficult to keep and look after. Without proper care, the sea turtles will die.
Many types of pollution have been affecting the sea turtle population. Plastic, chemical, and light pollution have been increasing over the years.
Research has shown how severe pollution is and how it’s driving the number of sea turtles down.
Plastic pollution is the most common type that affects sea turtles. Turtles have evolved to hunt underwater for food, and their diets include jellyfish.
52% of the world’s sea turtles have consumed plastic, often mistaking plastic bags for food. Turtles don’t know what plastic is and eat plastic bags, thinking it’s jellyfish or algae.
Chemical pollution is also dangerous for sea turtles. Oil spills, toxic metals, and contaminants are issues and can harm nests. They can also cause disease and lead to death.
Degraded crude oil forms tarballs which contaminate food and often kill hatchlings. Toxic metals also build up in the kidneys and liver of sea turtles.
Artificial light can also confuse hatchlings and lead them away from the sea. Light pollution is a significant threat to hatchlings. It makes them visible to predators and humans.
There is also the possibility of dehydration and getting run over. Human activity on beaches leads to female sea turtles finding unsuitable nesting spots.
Bad nesting spots lower the hatchling’s chance of survival and decrease the amount that makes it to sea.
When it comes to predation, hatchlings and eggs are more at risk than grown adult sea turtles. They are smaller in size and easier to catch.
Adult sea turtles are still preyed on by larger animals. Common sea turtle predators include:
- Wild dogs
- Killer whales
- Ghost crabs
Raccoons, foxes, and wild dogs target fresh eggs laid on the beach and often dig them up to reach them. They can also eat the hatchlings as their shells are soft and tasty.
Killer whales eat leatherback turtles as they have softer shells. Although leatherbacks are large, they can’t move into their shell.
As they are unable to protect themselves, it leaves them vulnerable to predators.
Seabirds like to go after hatchlings that have made it into the water. Since they are weak and slow, they are easy prey for fast seabirds.
Other birds like hawks also like to hunt giant turtles at the water’s surface. The birds pick them up and drop them, breaking their shell and allowing access to the flesh.
Ghost crabs are also regular hunters of baby sea turtles. They catch the hatchlings with their pincers and take them to their holes.
Crabs can also dig the nests for eggs and babies that have hatched. They also eat hatchlings that have washed up on the shore.
Sharks have a variety of prey, including turtles. Tiger sharks are the primary hunters of turtles. They attack from below as the turtles shell acts as protection.
Many other sharks attack the turtles with their flippers, then grab and eat the remains.
The most common disease sea turtles suffer from is fibropapillomatosis, or FP. FP causes tumors around the body and on internal organs. FP can affect and cause tumor growth on:
This disease affects more green sea turtles and loggerhead sea turtles. It was first found in green sea turtles in Florida in the late 1800s. Immature sea turtles are more affected by FP than older sea turtles.
Researchers believe the disease is a herpes virus caused by other factors we don’t know. It is unknown how the turtles transmit it to each other.
Some turtles get smaller tumors they can live with and grow out. Other sea turtles can have more severe FP and can lose the ability to swim, see, or eat.
Sea turtles often get injured because of human activity. Fishing hooks, nets, and plastic can harm turtles and boat collisions. Entanglement is also a deadly injury to turtles.
Sea turtles like to eat what they see. They are often unaware of what they are eating, so they eat plastic, fishing nets, and hooks by accident.
These can get trapped in the neck or cause damage to the turtle’s digestive system.
Boat collisions are dangerous to turtles and can leave their shell destroyed. The propeller from a boat can cut a turtle’s shell and hurt its internal organs.
The turtle’s are unable to submerge and stay floating above the water.
Turtles swim in a fast, circular motion, which gets their flippers caught in fishing lines. Their swimming techniques can cause them to lose one of their flippers.
They may also drown if they are unable to resurface for air.
How long do turtles live in captivity?
Being protected from the dangers of the wild, they can live up to 80 years on average.
There aren’t many sea turtles kept in captivity. Most turtles that aren’t in captivity are either injured or in aquariums.
Green, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtle species are most common in captivity. On rare occasions, olive ridley’s get held as well.
What can I do to help sea turtles?
Human activity lowers the population of sea turtles, leading them to endangered status. There are many things you can do to prevent this from happening.
- Don’t use single-use plastic – opt for reusable bags water bottles
- If you do use single-use plastic, recycle it – this prevents it from entering the sea with the sea turtles
- Avoid buying sea turtles items like meat, shell accessories, and eggs
- If you live near the coast with turtles in the area, turn off all lights at night
- Help clean up the coasts and beaches
- Remove all equipment like umbrellas and chairs from the beach at night
- Fill in and knock down any obstructions in the sand like holes and sandcastles
- Don’t leave fishing gear, always take it back with you
The average sea turtle can live for 30 to 50 years in the wild, but many hatchlings die young.
Hatchlings often die from predation, pollution, and poaching.
Once the hatchlings are in the water, their survival chance increases. However, they are still at risk from factors like disease and injury.
Human activity has also affected sea turtle populations. Overexploitation and pollution are examples of human activity.
There aren’t many turtles in captivity, with only injured turtles in captivity. Many are also kept in aquariums.
With sea turtles endangered, we should do more to prevent the extinction of the species.