Terry the green sea turtle cruised her way slowly through the ocean. Her flippers made a soft “thwap” when they broke the surface of the water as she came up for a breath. She floated quietly for a few minutes, breathing in the salty air. The warm sun felt good against her carapace. She tilted her head, looking up at the sky. Several types of gulls flew overhead. She saw the distinct black head of a laughing gull and the larger grey and white herring gulls. Their different calls echoed through the air.
Today was a special day for Terry. She was heading south towards the beach where she had hatched. That was where she would dig a nest to lay her eggs. Only a few more days to go! Today, though, she was passing off the coast of New Jersey. This was a spot she particularly enjoyed and often lingered. So many interesting animals lived here. Terry could spend several days of her migration just exploring here!
Terry was swimming about twenty miles from shore. Here, she was at the edge of the Hudson Canyon. Under her, the water was about 300 feet deep. If she were to head out to sea, the canyon dropped to over 10,000 feet! Terry had no reason to ever dive that deep, since she preferred shallow dives. The sea grasses that she ate wouldn’t grow where the sun couldn’t reach. So instead she headed towards the sandy beach. It was time for exploring! She couldn’t wait to see what she might find.
A school of small fish darted past her as she started her journey. These were menhaden and their silvery scales reflected the sunlight as they swam in their tight group. Terry knew that fish often swam in schools for protection from bigger animals. Having many eyes as a lookout was a good strategy!
Another group of larger fish skimmed the ocean floor below her. These were a special type of stingray called cownose rays. They had pointy fins, and their snout resembled a cow. The cownose rays had their mouths on the bottom of their bodies. When they flapped their fins, it stirred up the sand. This revealed their favorite food underneath – oysters and clams! First they would use their flat crushing teeth to break the shells of the clams. Then they would suck the meat out of the shell.
The next animal she encountered was a horseshoe crab. Its brown armored shell blended with the dark sand. She saw a pair of eyes on the top of the shell, and a long sharp tail. She had watched horseshoe crabs on the beach in the past. When they were knocked upside down by the waves, they used their telson to turn themselves back over. Terry suspected it was so the gulls wouldn’t eat them. Those legs sure looked tasty! Sometimes Terry saw very large horseshoe crabs, followed by smaller ones. The larger ones were the females, and they traveled to the beaches for the same reason Terry did…to lay their eggs!
A few minutes later, Terry spotted a different crab. This one had pincers and a blue-colored shell. Some of her sea turtle relatives enjoyed eating the blue crab. Terry was an adult, so she was an herbivore. She preferred to eat vegetation. When she was younger, though, she had been a carnivore and the crab would have made a great meal. The crab scurried along the ocean floor, stopping every now and then to pick through the sand. These scavengers ate bits of dead animal and plants. This helped keep the ocean clean.
Terry had a few more minutes to look around before she had to continue on to her beach. A few moon jellies pulsed and jiggled as they were carried away from the beach by the current. Their clear bodies were mostly full of water. Terry enjoyed them as an occasional snack! She knew that other types of turtles ate them too. Sometimes, though, Terry saw other things in the water that looked like jellies. These were not good to eat! Terry didn’t know the words “balloon” or “plastic bag”, but she had seen many of them and avoided them. She had also seen other turtles who were not as lucky and got very sick eating human trash.
Terry sighed as she turned to go. She would be back to the coast of New Jersey again! There were many other things that lived here that she hadn’t seen today. Next time she would be sure to head closer to the bay to see diamondback terrapins. These turtles lived where the oceans met the fresh water from the land. They looked like her, but smaller, and had funny webbed feet. She waved a flipper at the beach as she thought of those feet, and pushed her way through the water. She had miles to go before she got to her own beach, and had an important job to do!