Only one to two percent of baby sea turtles make it through their first year. Numerous predators and accidental deaths make it difficult for all seven species of sea turtles to grow into adults. Baby sea turtles must climb out of the sand nest, cross the open beach and swim into deeper waters. Such exposure makes them susceptible to a list of predators.
Wild dogs, dingos, foxes, weasels and raccoons have all been known to prey on baby sea turtles. Dogs and dingos will dig up turtle nests to eat both the eggs and the baby turtles. Raccoons are drawn to beaches by human trash and find turtle nests to be an easy meal. Also, humans prey on baby sea turtles by consuming sea turtle eggs.
Sea birds have the unfair advantage of being able to spy baby sea turtles from either the sky or the ground. A flock of gulls can devastate a nest of 100 hatchlings as they struggle through the sand and try to sprint into the water. Vultures along the beach will pick off baby turtles as soon as they scurry across the sand towards the water and frigate birds swoop baby sea turtles up from the land and water's surface.
Ghost crabs and surf crabs will prey on baby sea turtles. Quick reacting ghost crabs will run out of their sand burrows, grab the little turtles and drag them deep into their burrows to feast on them. These hunting crabs remain in their burrows during the hottest part of the day and leave their burrows as the day cools into night, which happens to be the time when most sea turtles hatch.
Once the baby sea turtles reach the ocean, they will try to reach deeper water and hide the in seaweed beds or travel along the ocean currents, although safety is still an issue. Any type of carnivorous fish, such as grouper, snapper, rockfish and barracuda will prey on the baby sea turtles as they cross the reefs to reach deeper water. Sharks, especially tiger sharks, will also prey on adults and baby sea turtles.
Large reptiles prey on baby sea turtles. Small crocodiles living in the same waters as the sea turtles and monitor lizards that roam turtle nesting sites will feed on the baby turtles. Any reptile that has jaws strong enough to break a turtle's shell can consume turtles. Sea turtle hatchlings have softer shells than juvenile turtles and other reptiles find them to be very edible.
- Office of Naval Research: Ocean Life: Green Sea Turtle - Adaptation
- Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Water Resources: Sea Turtle Conservation and Education on the Tiwi Islands
- Marine Education Society of Australia: Marine Turtles of Australia, Predators and Prey
- Design Symposium on Conservation of Ecosystem: Crab Predation on Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) Eggs Incubated on a Natural Beach and in Turtle Hatcheries
- Sea Turtle Conservancy: General Behavior Patterns of Sea Turtles
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.