Awesome HK icon will have you all at sea

Education | Ocean Park 17 Nov 2020

You will never find a green turtle if you look for a turtle that is green - because a green turtle does not actually look green. That is, its shell is not greenish.

So why is it called the green turtle? The adult green turtle mainly takes in algae and seagrass, giving its cartilage and fat an inner green, hence its name.

The green turtle is outstanding on several counts as a species. It is one of the largest sea turtles in the world. This remarkable creature, weighing up to 200 kilograms and bearing a majestic carapace measuring 1.2 meters in length, is also the only species of sea turtles known to breed locally here in Hong Kong.

Found in the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the Indo-Pacific, where algae and seagrass are abundant in coral reefs and inshore pastures, green turtles are highly migratory.

Over their lifetime, they may relocate their habitats in places spanning thousands of kilometers, making them genuinely "international" in nature.

Upon sexual maturity, green turtles embark on breeding migrations between their foraging grounds and nesting areas every few years.

The sandy beach at Sham Wan on Lamma Island is discovered to be the only regular nesting site for green turtles in Hong Kong. It is also one of the few remaining nesting sites in southern China.

This makes the site particularly important to this species - both in local and regional contexts.

These Hong Kong icons are protected by the local Wild Animals Protection Ordinance.

The public cannot hunt, possess, sell or export green turtles - including their nests and eggs - unless a special permit is granted. Also, the sandy beach and the nearby waters of Sham Wan have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest since June 1999.

The green turtles are of great value to the marine ecosystem: by grazing on seagrass and algae, they help to maintain its overall health.

Their excrement contains nutrients from the seagrass consumed and becomes precious food to smaller species in the ecosystem. The seagrass bed is like a nursery, where certain species of invertebrates and fishes with commercial value are found.

This cycle of life helps to secure our food chain.

The green turtle is listed as "endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List - signifying the emergency in conserving the species.

The smallest act of us to protect the environment, therefore, has a direct impact on green turtles.

Statistics have alarmingly shown that green turtles consume plastics 62 percent of the time they encounter such in the sea, having mistaken them for algae. They could also be entangled by plastics, resulting in injuries and casualties. This especially poses a threat to baby turtles, which have to crawl on beaches after hatching to reach the sea.

It is paramount that we all play our part in conserving a safe habitat for the green turtles, for instance, by avoiding using plastic straws and other disposable utensils when enjoying our meal.

Since 2000, Ocean Park has been collaborating with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to help care for injured sea turtles found in Hong Kong waters or rescued from illegal trade. To date, over 70 have been treated and released back to the wild.

Satellite transmitters, metal tags and microchips have been attached to their carapaces to record their subsequent oceanic voyages, facilitating global research work for their conservation.

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