SOS! (Sex On Surface)

Copyright A.Cesario/HEPCA

On the morning of the 12th of June the Red Sea Defender was crossing the waters north of Sirnaka as part of its Dolphin Research Expedition. While the researchers were primarily interested in cetacean sightings, the appearance of anything unusual in the dark blue waters was quickly investigated. This time a strange shape near the surface caught the researcher’s eye. On closer inspection with binoculars it was realized to be a turtle, struggling at the surface. Greatly concerned about the turtle’s welfare, the Red Sea Defender quickly changed course in order to get closer to the creature. As the boat approached, the researchers realized they were in fact witnessing one of nature’s rarer spectacles.

Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are one of five marine turtle species that occurs in the Red Sea. They can grow up to 1.5m in length and live to 80 years in the wild. Green turtles are most commonly seen by divers and snorkelers close to coral reefs, where they mainly feed on seagrass and algae. On certain beaches at particular times of year, female turtles will come to shore to lay between 50 – 150 golfball sized eggs. A couple of months later the young turtles hatch, and make their first tentative steps towards the ocean, often not seen again until adulthood.

As the researchers came closer to the struggling turtle, it suddenly became apparent that there were not one, but three large green turtles. This was an amazing sight in itself – what could they be doing together out in the open ocean? With alot of splashing and noticing the determined look on some of the turtle’s faces, the researchers were suddenly aware that they were seeing the most intimate of moments, that of a female green turtle being keenly followed by two male admirers. Female green turtles only mate once every 2 – 4 years, and green turtles take between 20 – 50 years to reach sexual maturity.

Tails raised, the rivals tried to impress the female with their strength and prowess, sizing each other up and violently knocking each out of the way. As the female turtle swam on with the males in hot pursuit, the crew of the Red Sea Defender watched on in silent anticipation. Suddenly much cheering and clapping broke out after a particularly large amount of splashing, as one of the males emerged victorious having successfully mated with the female.

Anna Markula (HEPCA intern)

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