The National Sea Turtle Rescue Center
The center was established in 1999 by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the agency responsible for the protection of wildlife in Israel, with the goal of rehabilitating injured sea turtles and returning them to the wild after their recovery. Since its establishment the center has cared for more than 700 individuals, mainly loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles, softshell turtles, Western Caspian turtles and even five dolphins. About 70% were released to the open sea. The rescue center works to rehabilitate local populations of sea turtles in a variety of ways: physical protection of eggs laid on the beaches, fostering and maintaining reproductive nuclei of green sea turtles, surveys and research, education, public relations and raising awareness in the media and holding guided tours for the public. We especially note that the treatment and rehabilitation of the turtles depends greatly on the help of our volunteers.
The center operates on the campus of Mevo’ot Yam School, and has special sea-water pools in which the injured turtles are kept.
Sea turtles breathe through their lungs, like we do. Therefore, they have to lift their head out of the water to take in air. Their breathing rate depends on how active they are, as well as on water temperature. A turtle busy swimming in fairly warm water will come up for air every few minutes. When sleeping, and in cooler water, turtles can make do with one breath an hour.
Sea turtles can dive to great depths. Loggerhead turtles and green sea turtles can dive as deep as 1,000 m.
A sea turtle’s diet depends on its species, and sometimes on its stage of development as well. Loggerhead turtles eat mainly invertebrates on the sea bed, like crabs, echinoderms (like starfish and sea urchins) and mollusks. Hawksbill sea turtles mainly eat soft corals, while leatherback sea turtles, who live in the open sea where the sea bed is very deep, are nourished when young mainly by plankton and invertebrates, while as adults they are almost entirely vegetarian, consuming algae and sea greens.
Sea turtles get the liquid they need through their food and the sea water they swallow while eating. The salt in the sea water is absorbed in their digestive system through their bloodstream, from which it reaches salt glands in their skull. From there the salt is exuded through their eyes as tears.
Adult sea turtles spend most of their lives migrating between feeding zones and breeding zones. Sea turtles prefer to remain on the continental shelf at a depth of up to 50 m, that is, near the shoreline. In Israel these areas can be as far as about 6 km from the shore.
All sea turtles live as solitary individuals. They might meet up in feeding zones, but such chance encounters do not involve interaction. Sea turtles meet only to mate in the breeding season, after which they will never meet again, and they do not raise their young.
Before they reach sexual maturity, there are no differences between males and females. In the Mediterranean Sea, males can be differentiated from females only when they reach sexual maturity, between 20 and 30 years old. Sexually mature males have a long tail, which they need for mating, while females keep their short tail, which is barely visible at the edge of their shell.
It’s easy to tell loggerheads from green sea turtles – by the number of plates on the sides of their shells. Both species have five plates arranged in a straight line above their spine. But the green sea turtle has four plates flanking the spine, while the loggerhead has five.
Sea turtles can live for decades, even to age 100!
It is very complicated to estimate a sea turtle’s age and there’s no precise way to do it. Age can be roughly estimated based on weight, but since the turtle’s growth rate depends on nutrition and species, weight is not an exact indication of age. There is another method of calculation, which can be made only after death, called skelatochronology. By this method, a piece of limb bone is stained with a dye in a laboratory revealing growth rings, like in tree trunks. But even this method doesn’t produce a precise age.