January is the month when Galápagos Giant Tortoises’ eggs start hatching, and sea turtles begin to lay their eggs. Green Sea Turtles are the only species of marine turtles that lays eggs in the Galapagos Islands!
They get their name from their greenish color, which results from their diet based on algae. Different than other turtles, they have adapted to living on the ocean. Green sea turtles have flippers at the end of their limbs and they have lighter shells than land turtles. Their cousins the Giant Tortoises, for example, are born with shells that will grow to have impressive dimensions. Giant Tortoises use their shells as protection: when they spot an enemy, they retract. The shell of the Galápagos Green Sea Turtle on the other hand, is their skeleton. They do not use it to hide but instead they have become very agile and can swim up to speeds of 35mph.
Another incredible adaptation that these marine creatures have developed is the “salt gland.” If they appear to be crying, it’s because they are releasing the excess salt that comes from the sea (by shedding large tears through this gland.)
When sea turtles eat, they remain under the water from 5-10 minutes, but they can actually swim below the surface for up to 2 and a half hours. They can even sleep underwater!
Green Sea Turtles spend most of their time in the ocean, but it is the females who have to make their way to the beaches to lay their eggs. Females approach the beaches at night (to be safe from predators) and lay 50-200 eggs after digging a hole with their hind limbs. Then they head out to the ocean before the sun comes up, leaving their eggs behind never to be seen again. After having been incubated for approx. 50 days, the eggs start hatching, all at the same time. Their big journey to the ocean is ahead. When they travel in groups it is more likely that they survive crossing the beach.
However, getting to the ocean is only the beginning of a fight to remain alive. Green sea turtles will be exposed to other enemies and threats, and will fight for their life until they reach the age of 26-40 when they become mature.
If you visit Galápagos in January, you will be lucky to spot many female turtles swimming by the shores, and near the coasts. Most of them are pregnant and waiting for the night to come, to embark on the journey of laying their eggs and leaving their nests behind.