Role in the Environment
The beach is a harsh environment to live in and the plants and animals that do have adapted specifically to thrive in this environment. To survive in this ever-changing ecosystem the flora and fauna must be able to tolerate continuous salt spray from the ocean, sandy, nutrient poor soils, exposure to extreme weather events and a coastline that is constantly changing due to erosion, waves and the changing of tides.
Sea turtles play a key role in maintaining the health of the beaches on which they nest by providing necessary nutrients and energy to the plants growing there. After a turtle digs her nest, lays her clutch and the eggs hatch, the remaining eggshells and unhatched eggs will make their way into the dune system. This provides the energy needed to keep the dune system strong so that the turtles may continue to nest there year after year. Only 1/3 of the nitrogen and nutrients contained in the eggs will return to the ocean as baby turtles, the remaining 2/3 of this energy remains on shore. This is a substantial and vital amount of energy when considering that the average clutch size is 110 eggs and that one female can lay anywhere between 2-8 clutches per nesting season.
Sea turtles and their feeding habits also play a large role in the marine environment by consuming massive amounts of jellyfish, helping to keep the growing population in check. All species of sea turtle, except for one, count jellyfish as an important part of their diet. The hawksbill is the only turtle that doesn't include jellies as a part of their diet during some stage of its life. They are often called 'spongivores' because they feed exclusively on sponges. Green sea turtles are omnivores as juveniles but become exclusively herbivorous as adults. Leatherbacks feed exclusively on jellies and can eat up to 440 pounds of jellyfish a day, while the other species eat a mix of jellies, mollusks and other small marine creatures. Keeping jellyfish populations under control is extremely important to the health of the ocean. Not only do beach goers want to avoid being inundated by stinging jellyfish but more jellyfish can also to lead to a decrease in the abundance of fish because jellyfish feed on fish eggs and larvae, upsetting the balance of the marine ecosystem.