THE WORLD OF 200 MILLION YEARS AGO SAW SOME OF THE STRANGEST ANIMALS THAT HAD EVER LIVED.
NOTHING ABOUT THEM SUGGESTED THEY WOULD BECOME A HUGE SUCCESS.
BUT THESE TURTLES WERE AMONG THE FIRST OF EARTH'S GREAT DYNASTIES OF REPTILES.
TURTLES, THEN AND NOW, ARE UNIQUE.
THEIR BODIES ARE ENCASED IN ARMOR, AND THAT SHELL HAS CHANGED LITTLE OVER MILLIONS OF YEARS.
VARYING GREATLY IN SIZE, THEY COLONIZED MOST OF THE WORLD.
BUT WHEREVER THEY LIVE, THE BASIC SHAPE OF A TURTLE'S BODY REMAINS THE SAME.
SOME LAND-DWELLING TURTLES, OR TORTOISES, ARE QUITE SMALL.
OTHERS HAVE BECOME FAMOUS AS GIANTS.
SOME LONG-NECK TYPES ARE AT HOME IN AND OUT OF FRESH WATER.
THEY AND THESE SHORTER-NECK TURTLES ARE KNOWN AS TERRAPINS.
257 TURTLE SPECIES EXIST.
THEY LIVE IN EVERY ENVIRONMENT, FROM THE DRIEST OF DESERTS TO THE COLDEST EXTREMES.
SOME THAT ARE GENTLE VEGETARIANS HAVE BECOME WELCOME VISITORS TO OUR HOMES.
OTHERS HUNT OUT OF OUR VIEW.
OLDER THAN THE BIRDS, ALL TURTLES MAY OWE THEIR SUCCESS TO THEIR SIMPLE DESIGN, BUT WHAT FUTURE IS THERE FOR TURTLES LIVING LIFE IN A SHELL?
[Jungle Music] THIS PROGRAM WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY CONTRIBUTIONS TO YOUR PBS STATION FROM VIEWERS LIKE YOU.
McGILLIN: Powderham Castle in England is the ancestral home of Lord Devon.
It's also the home of Timothy, a rather venerable tortoise.
To the present lord, Timothy is the oldest member of the family.
LORD DEVON: Timothy first came into our family in 1892 and he'd previously belonged to a Captain Rutherford, who was a sea captain, and undoubtedly he was on board ship for quite a long time.
And this has given rise to a number of myths about Timothy's beginnings: that he belonged to pirates and all this sort of thing, which aren't strictly true.
He's outlived a number of Earls of Devon.
I think, at a quick count, it's about seven, or... or maybe... I'm either the seventh or eighth that he's known.
McGILLIN: The suggestion is that Timothy is at least 162 years old.
LORD DEVON: I think he mostly lives on sort of clovers and things, but his favorite really is strawberries.
Now, my son, what about that?
He's been known to make a mistake when he is wanting a strawberry, and we once had a lady with painted red toenails and she got rather a sharp nip on the toenail.
But he doesn't make too many mistakes.
He knows usually what he's got.
I don't know that he's terribly hungry at the moment.
No... I think it's too cold for eating today.
McGILLIN: Counting growth rings on their shell is not always a reliable guide to a tortoise's age.
Rings vary with diet.
But tortoises always live life at a slow pace, and that may be a reason for Timmy's record age.
The fossil record is our best guide to the history of Timmy's ancestors.
The first we know lived some 300 million years ago in the world of forests that gave us our coal.
From such primitive reptiles, turtles diverged first, leaving dinosaurs and other reptiles to go their own way.
Through the ages, there have been turtles of fantastic size and diversity.
They saw snakes emerge 100 million years ago and witnessed the extinction of the dinosaurs.
That turtles have survived so long is due to the extraordinary design of the shell that protects their body.
The shell has remained virtually unchanged for 200 million years.
A thick layer of hardened scale is its first line of defense, but a broad, bony layer-- the carapace-- provides strength.
In other animals, this bone would be ribs.
The turtle's backbone is fused to the shell.
It's the support under the bridge.
The shell of a turtle serves many purposes.
On land, it's heavy, restricting movement, but great protection.
Underwater, in a streamlined form, the shell allows for graceful swimming with surprising speed.
Power is provided by huge front flippers.
Sea turtles migrate thousands of miles, swimming on the ocean currents.
Their hind limbs are mainly used as rudders for steering.
Legs have no appeal for these sailors.
Sea turtles only emerge onto land to nest, and even then flippers are sufficient to haul the turtle over a beach.
Freshwater turtles, or terrapins, do have legs with webbed toes to propel their streamlined shell.
When feeding on the bottom of a lake or river, legs are more useful than flippers.
And terrapins also climb out of the water, so their legs are essential.
A tortoise walking on land all the time needs strong legs, in this case to carry it out of danger.
The pancake tortoise also has a flattened shell that's handy for fitting into crevices.
A caracal can easily spot a meal in these cracks, but the shell of this tortoise, being flexible, can be tightly wedged in the rock.
This pancake tortoise's casing defeats the inquisitive cat.
Giant tortoises-- and this one on a Galapagos Island is among the largest in the world-- have no natural predators to hide from, but they need weight-lifter's legs to move their enormous shell.
This one is hauling a house that weighs nearly 300 pounds and is over an inch thick.
A tiny box turtle leads a far more troubled life in raccoon country, but its domed shell has a cunning device that usually outwits such hunters.
It's time to take evasive action.
The shell is hinged.
The drawbridge comes up and all of the turtle-- head, limbs and tail-- is safe inside its castle.
( ) Only when the raccoon retreats will the turtle venture out.
That hinge on the lower shell saved its life.
( ) The turtle's shell has survived some huge challenges over millions of years, but sometimes, no matter how good the design, the odds can be against it.
That is one lucky tortoise.
Surviving the heat of a desert is a particular challenge for tortoises.
They can only control their temperature by moving into and out of the sun.
Dr. Jeff Lovage of the United States Geological Survey is radio-tracking a desert tortoise on a wind farm in California.
Desert tortoises have recently started to decline, and Jeff wants to find out why.
LOVAGE: Well, here's one of our females.
Getting a little warm out here, isn't it?
It's only 9:00 right now, but it's already hot out here.
It's probably 95 degrees and it's going to be 115 before the day is over.
And she's heading for the burrow off to my right.
The tortoise needs the burrow to survive and protect itself from the extremes that are so characteristic of the desert.
McGILLIN: 115 degrees-- 30 degrees more than even this desert tortoise could survive out in the open.
Look at her walking into my shadow.
Desert tortoises take advantage of every opportunity they can to become cool in the midday sun.
McGILLIN: At the other end of the thermometer, extremes of cold present their own challenge.
Some turtles in Canada can survive freezing temperatures.
Called painted sliders, their frozen bodies are not drawing breath and their hearts are not beating, and yet they are not dead.
( ) These hatchlings, born in August, freeze and unfreeze throughout the winter until the final thaw in spring.
How the cells of their body survive this, nobody knows, yet the painted sliders leave their nest and start active life unharmed.
Such marvelous abilities to survive were entirely to the turtle family's advantage until humans appeared on the horizon.
In the centuries before refrigeration was invented, it was sailors who took advantage of the turtle's special qualities.
Since turtles can survive for several months without food, they could be carried aboard as a supply of fresh meat.
Killing turtles for their tasty meat is a very ancient practice.
FILM NARRATOR: Wham! That's a direct hit.
It's painless for the turtle, though, because we use a special kind of harpoon point, just enough of it to penetrate his tough layer of shell.
McGILLIN: That is now known to be nonsense.
Nerve endings by the hundreds fill both shell and bone, but myths die as hard as the turtles.
FILM NARRATOR: These turtles weigh from 300 to 500 pounds, and their age is estimated at a pound for the year.
McGILLIN: By the start of the 20th century, overexploitation had brought some kinds of turtles to the brink of extinction.
Today, turtle soup and meat consumption continues, despite international laws which attempt to protect endangered turtles.
The turtle may well be our defenseless victim, but in the natural world, these successful reptiles have for a long time been quite capable of defending themselves.
Tiger sharks and their relatives kill sea turtles in deep water, but in these shallows, this loggerhead turtle can turn the tables.
The turtle is biting the shark.
It has no teeth, but the sharp serrated plates in its strong jaws can inflict serious injury.
In shallow water, the shark's movements are restricted, and it has difficulty fighting back.
After a breath of air, the valiant turtle can return to feeding.
It can give as good as it gets.
A loggerhead eats a variety of seafoods, but its beak is ideal for capturing hard-shelled prey.
Bad luck for this crab.
( ) In fresh water, a camouflaged turtle is hunting.
This is a matamata.
It will blend with the fallen leaves and wait for a fish to come within range.
Then it simply sucks them in.
The fearsome jaws of an alligator snapping turtle gape, and reveal a wormlike appendage on its tongue.
Lured by its wriggling, a fish investigates this death trap.
And there are even turtles that hunt together.
Donald Strydom knows that visitors to the Swadini Reptile Park in South Africa are fascinated by the bloodthirsty terrapins he exhibits there.
It's feeding time in the terrapin pool.
You know, if I were to put my finger into this water, they would eat it.
But I'm going to give them something else to eat, their favorite food: a little piece of chicken here.
And if I lower that down, they're going to move towards this.
Come, guys, come on.
You'll probably find that the red-eared terrapins come first.
They are normally the more dominant.
Here comes one now.
You can see why it's called a red-eared terrapin.
It's got the little red mark behind the eye.
And look at that.
He's a dominant one, so he will come first.
And here comes one of the serrated hinged terrapins on the side here.
And the rest of them are going to respond to the movement.
In fact, they would have to eat in colonies.
They can't easily, as you can see here, bite off a chunk of meat on their own, so they need to tear it amongst each other.
They eat in much the same way as piranhas, so lots together biting off chunks and pieces of meat.
And you can see that happening right here now.
Right, he's got a really good grip on it.
Tear at the meat.
This is all very necessary in nature.
They clean up the place.
They're, in fact, the aquatic hyenas.
McGILLIN: Forget big game watching here.
Keep your eyes on these little guys.
Eating chicken on a plate in the reptile park is nothing compared with how these terrapins feed in the wild.
The predator sizes up its prey, these quelea, which flock in the thousands.
One terrapin grabs a bird.
The others crowd in to snatch what they can.
Even birds as big as doves are not safe from the helmeted terrapin's submarine attack.
A lone terrapin could overcome the dove, but hungry rivals are on their way.
And turtles can be even more competitive when it comes to mating.
The birds of Dassen Island off the Cape coast of South Africa share their tiny home not only with rabbits but also with more than 10,000 tortoises.
But not until the temperature climbs to 75 degrees do they come out.
Male angulated tortoises hold territories, and once they've warmed up, they begin to chase females on their turf.
Once he's found one, he won't easily let her go.
So far so good, but he's chased her onto another male's territory, which will upset his plans.
They do battle-- a duel in the sun.
But a third male has seen an opportunity, and he's mating with female.
( ) Neither the combatants nor the vigorously mating couple show signs of giving in.
By the time the fight reaches its climax, the mating is also over.
The loser may even lose his life.
He must right himself or else fry in the sun.
The temperature is rising rapidly.
He must get into the shade.
But that's hard to find with 10,000 competitors.
His answer is to dig in, covering head and limbs and using his shell as a sunshade.
In tropical waters, temperatures are much the same all year round.
These male green turtles near Borneo will mate whenever a receptive female is available.
The males have the long tails.
They're all pursuing one female.
A male succeeds in locking onto her shell and mating with her.
Rival males are surprisingly vicious in trying to interrupt his success.
These powerful jaws can injure a flipper, and not only the mated male, but other rivals are also getting bitten.
But to no effect.
The desire to mate is strong, and only when he has succeeded will other males have a chance to take his place.
In the sea or on land, turtles breed with little problem.
But on the unique islands of the Galapagos, a crisis has arisen.
At the Charles Darwin Research Station, the fortunes of the famous Galapagos Island tortoises are being carefully monitored.
These tortoises are giants, among the largest in the world.
And they are more than just a tourist attraction.
And their survival depends on them breeding in captivity here.
These baby tortoises are the hope for the future.
Each island has its very own type of giant tortoise, found nowhere else.
And in these pens, babies are being nurtured until they're ready to be taken to their particular island home.
In past centuries, boats landed on each island to plunder the docile giants, killing or collecting them.
Today's boat is helping to right that wrong, bringing in young tortoises to replace those that were taken.
( ) This is the island of Española.
The Española tortoise was once facing almost certain extinction.
Now the future arrives in a bag.
A thousand young tortoises have been released like this, all bred from just 15 adults collected in the 1970s.
They should be safer than they've ever been.
Their only enemy was people, and now the poacher has turned protector.
In 20 years, they should all be as big as this adult.
But this success has not been repeated for the tortoises of Pinta Island.
The last remaining resident of Pinta is living out his old age at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
They call him Lonesome George.
More than 70 years old, he's the last of his species.
All the others starved when introduced goats ate the plants of Pinta and shipborne rats ate the tortoise eggs.
Zoos and private collections worldwide have failed to turn up a relative.
And even if a mate were found, he could be too old to breed.
The Pinta Island tortoise may be the first turtle species to become extinct in the 21st century.
The future of many of the world's turtles is a matter of concern.
Even the Olive Ridley sea turtles, famous for their mass egg-laying on this beach in Costa Rica, are arriving in fewer numbers each season.
Randall Arauz is familiar with the spectacular here at Ostional.
ARAUZ: Ever since I was a very young boy and I was always interested in marine biology, but then one day-- it was 1982-- I was a second year biology student, I walked into the school and there was a big sign that said: And I thought, well, I've heard about the I should go check it out.
Then I came to Ostional right here at this spot and I saw the happening, and right then it struck me, like I had to study turtles and I've been doing turtles ever since.
McGILLIN: As many as 200,000 turtles might haul out onto this beach on one night.
20 years ago, it would have been a million, but this is still one of the biggest in the world.
ARAUZ: The turtles are right now congregating right out there.
They're going to congregate in what we call 'the float.'
And they'll start coming up after the sun goes down, and probably by midnight or 1:00 in the morning we're going to have a very high concentration of turtles nesting here on this beach.
And they're not going to finish until sunrise, probably about 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning.
So, yeah, it's going to be some pretty heavy work all night long.
We basically know that these turtles come for two or three consecutive in a row.
Then they're going to leave and we won't see the turtle again for another year or another two years.
The may easily have 100,000 turtles participating.
And 100,000 turtles at 100 eggs per turtle, roughly, that means ten million eggs.
McGILLIN: Eggs are the turtles' investment in their own future.
But eggs can also produce illegal income for poachers, so patrols of armed guards protect these nesting turtles all night against egg thieves.
This female may have mated with several males offshore, so each of her 60 to 100 fertilized eggs may have a different genetic composition, which is healthy for the future of Olive Ridley turtles.
Randall can also inspect the health of an individual while she's laying.
She seems to be unaware of him and in a kind of trance.
He examines her gently for signs of disease or injury while she's in this curious semiconscious state.
Just why she enters this trance is not yet known.
ARAUZ: The studies carried out on this beach indicate that roughly eight percent of all the eggs laid on this beach will actually hatch and turn into little turtles.
Now, that does not mean that these little turtles will turn into adults.
A wild guess is one out of a hundred.
McGILLIN: This beach at Ostional is only about four and a half miles long, and with turtles still arriving to nest at dawn, there is not much space left and some inevitably dig up the nests of others.
Many eggs get damaged, and the loss is enormous.
The collection of eggs is important for the local economy.
But local people are only allowed to take them for the first 36 hours of an It's a conservation plan they're happy with.
The community of Ostional protects their turtles in many ways.
Probably the main way is they respect the management plan.
There are rules as to when you can harvest, when you can't, and the community as a whole complies.
You can only harvest the eggs for the first 36 hours.
The eggs have to be packaged in a special way.
There has to be receipts, there's all this paperwork.
And the people of Ostional comply with all these rules and regulations to their very best.
McGILLIN: And they get a good harvest without harm to the turtles.
Soft-shelled, the eggs travel well to a luxury market where some are enjoyed over the bar in a pricey drink they call 'bocca.'
Now that more and more people are living where they do, land turtles such as the California desert tortoise face greater problems.
This rivalry concerns Jeff Lovage.
When you look at what people have done to the desert in the last 100 years, it's amazing that it's survived.
I mean, here we have this rugged old touchstone, a place that looks timeless, yet it's changing very rapidly.
And a place that was formerly virtually empty of people and now sits in between Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles-- some of the most highly populated cities in the United States.
And we've put roads in through the whole desert.
We've driven over it in our motor cycles, our trucks and our off-highway vehicles.
We've encouraged the spread of exotic species of plants and animals that are changing the landscape of the desert very rapidly.
And the desert tortoise has become the flagship species for conservation in the Mojave Desert.
But it has a very uncertain future in terms of how it's going to be able to survive in this onslaught of human population increase.
McGILLIN: Its charm may be a desert tortoise's worst enemy.
People like to have one at home.
Problems arise when the once- loved pet outgrows its welcome.
It seems so easy and kind to let it go in the wild.
But Fred-- or whatever his pet name has been-- is about to cause problems among the wild tortoises he will inevitably meet.
He appears to have a cold, a viral infection that he'll soon pass on to others.
A whole population of desert tortoises may die because one unwanted pet was carelessly released.
Close to towns, tortoises are presented with other problems.
Our roads cross their territories and they get injured.
I have a very injured turtle.
McGILLIN: Another casualty for the vet.
But this one is not from a traffic accident.
Hi, what do we have here?
Let's have a look.
Ugh, looks like it's been chewed up by a dog or a coyote or some kind of a predator.
Okay, this is like dead skin, dead scales, so this doesn't hurt.
This is just like peeling dead skin off.
McGILLIN: Fiberglass can be used to repair tortoise bodywork.
VETERINARIAN: Sometimes I feel like a cook when I'm doing this.
But we'll cover it up with another layer and it should do fine.
Because of the fact that it's clear, we can see through it and see what that tissue looks like in there.
So if it ever got to a point where that tissue started looking bad, we'd be able to take this shell patch off and get in there and treat it.
All right... McGILLIN: Convalescence for that injured turtle is available here with Dan Touchstone of the San Diego Turtle Society.
Turtles are able to survive much more severe injuries than a mammal because of their shell, and a much slower constitution.
Ah, come on, you want it.
McGILLIN: He also has orphans in his care, unwanted pets.
All are pampered here.
How you doing, big guy?
Breakfast time for you.
Yeah, there you go.
Puddles, you were about the size of a walnut when we got you.
Here you go, I know you're hungry.
McGILLIN: In Florida, turtles have acquired a special friend, Richard Moretti, who's a bit surprised by his new passion.
I moved to the Keys in 1983 and started fishing.
Everybody said, 'Oh, you're so great.
You came to the Keys to save the animals.'
No, I came to kill the fish.
It's just living in the Keys changes you.
You appreciate the environment a little more.
Okay, she'll be out of here by the end of the summer.
These are the new babies?
McGILLIN: Concerned about sick and injured turtles he encountered in the late 1970s, Richard set up the Florida Turtle Hospital and staffed it with a dedicated veterinary team.
MORETTI: Well, she'll have to get a little larger, but, yeah, she's swimming okay and she's eating just fine.
MORETTI: I filled an old saltwater swimming pool with tarpon and grouper and snapper.
And the children that came to visit said do you have any turtles?
In 1986 we asked the state of Florida for sea turtles, They said the only way you can have them is to do something for them.
I said, 'What would you like us to do?'
They said 'Well, we need a rehabber.
'If a turtle gets hit by a boat, 'we take it to the vet and pay the bill.
'We buy the food and pay the bill And when it's ready, we turn it out.'
I said, 'I can do that.'
And that was our very modest start of the Sea Turtle Hospital.
Watch your legs.
I got him.
Okay, guys... Okay, that's perfect.
MORETTI: Before I moved to the Keys, I ran a Volkswagen facility, and Volkswagens would come in broken and my job was to find the best mechanics and the best parts.
Well, this is the same.
The turtles come in broken and my job is the find the best vets and meds.
It's the same except now instead of having to give them the bill, I pay the bill, and that even makes it nicer.
There you go.
God... Thanks, doc.
And I didn't get too wet.
MORETTI: This little tumor is the beginning of a virus that affects sea turtles around the world.
This disease started a hundred years ago.
When we first started seeing it 15 years ago in the Keys, turtles would come in with a singular tumor like this.
This turtle's evidently just gotten the disease because he's only got a couple of very small tumors, which we'll take off, and that'll immunize her against the disease.
We'll keep her for a year.
We'll make sure she doesn't grow any more and then we'll let her go.
It appears to be a herpes virus, very similar to herpes simplex 1 and 2, and it's affecting turtles worldwide.
Right now all eight species of turtles have a similar lesion.
We haven't been able to get tissue samples to make sure it's the same virus, but we've gotten tissue samples from about half the turtles around the world, and all the ones we've been able to examine are about 95% positive to the same virus.
McGILLIN: Some turtles infected with this herpes virus arrive in a much more advanced stage of the disease.
The team intends to do everything they can, but this turtle has been greatly weakened by the growths.
Notice the contrast difference.
You have a radiopacity here.
Notice it's not bone dense and not soft tissue dense.
I'm concerned about these.
We definitely need to go and do the endoscopy and document that they're there with some digital photographs.
Okay, the reason, too, that we have her on her back like this is so that we don't accidentally poke into something like an intestine or a bladder.
( ) You hear it?
So now we're in.
That's got to make her feel so much better.
Okay, gang, here we go.
I'm going to pass this directly in.
There we go.
McGILLIN: The endoscope does not reveal good news.
They can recognize large tumors within her body.
In the wild, she may not have lived much longer.
Okay, now we need to roll her back over because I need to put a suture in there.
Well, that's not good news for this baby unfortunately.
McGILLIN: They can do nothing for her except ease her pain and put her to sleep.
The joy of success helps make up for the sadness of failure.
And today four rehabilitated turtles are going home.
WOMAN: They look like they're ready.
Yeah, after never being out of a tank, they're going to enjoy this big tank called an ocean, huh?
All right, have lots of babies, guys!
Are you ready for this?
You look ready.
You're beating me up already.
You got your jewelry?
Okay, you can go.
McGILLIN: Moments like this reassure Richard Moretti that their work is worthwhile.
All right, guy.
Shall we send them in pairs?
Sounds good to me.
All right, they're roommates.
They've been roommates.
Okay, there they go.
MORETTI: Usually when you see wildlife being worked on, it's usually on a picnic table with a buck knife.
But we've built a state-of-the-art facility to give these animals the care they need.
Those little turtles that were just released, when they came in, they had been trapped in roots when they were born, and they struggled to get out and they were cut all the way to the bones all over their body from struggling.
It took us two years to get them ready, and you saw those were nice, healthy turtles.
And the feeling, taking a wild animal that's going to live a lot longer than I will back out into the ocean and turning it loose for future generations-- well, you can see: goose bumps, it's great.
Nothing feels better than being able to put something back for the future.
McGILLIN: Every day, turtles can be seen enjoying the attentions of cleaner fish in the wild.
The fish feed on algae and in doing so, clean the turtle's shell.
It's a partnership that's millions of years old.
Generation after generation lived in what might have seemed a perfect world.
But change is sweeping through the ocean.
Commercial fishing puts nets into the sea, which can break loose and drift, catching much more than intended.
These death traps can also snare and drown frightened turtles.
Helplessly bound, they cannot swim to the surface to breathe.
( ) Shrimp nets have also taken a toll on turtles.
Scientist John Mitchell.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s in the southeast region of the United States, we estimated that approximately 40,000 sea turtles were killed incidental to shrimp trawling.
And this problem created a need for either a shutdown of the fishery or the development of some apparatus or technique to exclude the sea turtles from the trawl.
McGILLIN: What they developed was TED-- a Turtle Exclusion Device.
It's tested inside the trawl net of a working fishing boat.
The net is being dragged behind the boat, and the TED is fixed inside the net at the end.
The idea is that a turtle in the net hits the device, is pushed up the ramp, and escapes through the top of the net.
Only a live turtle can test it.
In this situation, a turtle would normally be fatally trapped with the shrimp.
But on reaching the TED, the turtle, much bigger than shrimp, hits the bars, is guided upwards and out into the sea, none the worse for its experience.
It's a simple invention, but it saves the lives of many turtles, and the use of TEDs desperately needs to be encouraged worldwide.
Here in Central America, we know that in Costa Rica at least, at least 15,000 turtles are being caught a year.
And of course this is definitely going to have an impact on the population.
There's a dead turtle right over there, you can see, almost definitely killed by a shrimper.
If Costa Rica was implementing TEDs efficiently, this would no longer be the case.
McGILLIN: In the sands of this beach at Ostional, the Olive Ridley turtles have been developing for some 60 days.
What happened under the sand as the eggs hatched is quite special.
The eggs at the bottom of the nest hatch first.
The hatchlings climb to the top of the chamber, and down below, sand fills the space they left.
As more hatch, the floor is gradually lifted to just below the surface, and the hatchlings emerge together.
Once out of the nest, hatchlings must head for the sea.
But how do they know where it is?
Light is a crucial factor for orientation.
The sea is always brighter than the land.
It's thought that when they are grown, these turtles will return to this very same beach to lay their eggs.
Turtles also hatch in daylight.
Most race directly for the ocean, but they can now be seen by predators.
Theirs is a lonely and dangerous journey.
On this beach, almost every animal has a taste for turtles.
But predators, such as this black vulture, don't always get to eat their fill.
( ) McGILLIN: Survival of the turtles is important to the local people.
When the turtles are hatching, the women all organize and they go to the beach.
They shoo the predators away to make sure the little turtles can make it into the water.
They try to make sure that all these little turtles make it to the water safely, because of course it's for their best interest to make sure that these little turtles make it to the water.
They eventually turn into adults and come back and participate in an McGILLIN: Although some 10,000 hatchlings will survive to become adult turtles, remember, ten million eggs were laid in these sands.
With a little help, these youngsters will be out to sea, where they will drift away on the currents.
No one knows where they go.
Perhaps they hide from ocean predators among floating seaweed, where they can safely feed and grow.
But it will be 15 to 20 years before they return to these waters.
Before people ever began helping turtles to survive, alligators had been unwittingly doing so for millions of years.
Young red-bellied turtles are hatching from eggs laid in the alligator's nest.
The rotting heap is warm and humid-- as good for incubating turtle's eggs as it is for hatching alligators.
Both stand to gain-- alligators eat a good many adult red-bellied turtles.
For 200 million years, turtles, with their curious bodies encased in their remarkable shells, have endured all manner of change around them.
Today's world is unlike that of long ago.
The oceans are threatened by human pollution and greed.
Ancient homelands have become deserts.
Islands are overrun by vermin and the future for these reptiles may depend on us.
MITCHELL: We don't know really what role they play in the overall scheme of things with the ecosystem.
And I think that's one reason why we should use any means to protect them.
There are many, many animals that we really don't... humans don't see a need to spend the effort and the time to conserve, but just the fact that we don't know I think means that we should.
LOVAGE: Throughout the world, irrespective of culture, there is an affinity for the turtle.
Throughout the world we have myths that ascribe various characters and features to turtles that we like to teach our children, like being steadfast and being resolute.
Here in this country, we have our own myth about 'the Tortoise and the Hare.'
And we teach our children that being steady and continuing to run the race can lead to victory.
You don't have to be the fastest.
You don't have to be the best.
MORRETI: This year we were really excited.
One of the turtles that we took a flipper off of last year and turned her loose-- it was a great big female, probably about 50 years old-- she crawled up on a beach in central Florida and laid eggs this year.
And that's really exciting, because, you know, up to that point, people usually kept turtles with one flipper in an aquarium or in a park.
Well, we proved that three- flipper turtles can go out there and add to the genetic makeup.
And they can actually crawl up on the beach with three flippers and have their babies and lay their eggs.
They're 200 million years old.
Those are living fossils that we put back in the ocean.
And hopefully with a lot of help from our friends that help us work on turtles, we'll see them into the next millennium.
But it makes you feel really good.
You know, we use so much of our assets and our environment up.
It's so nice to put something back for the future.
THIS PROGRAM WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY CONTRIBUTIONS TO YOUR PBS STATION FROM VIEWERS LIKE YOU.
THEY EAT IN MUCH THE SAME WAY AS PIRANHAS.
SO LOTS TOGETHER, BITING OFF CHUNKS AND PIECES OF MEAT.
AND YOU CAN SEE THAT HAPPENING RIGHT HERE NOW.
REALLY HAS GOT A REALLY GOOD GRIP ON IT.
GOOD MORNING, PUDDLES.
HOW YOU DOING, BIG GUY?
BREAKFAST TIME FOR YA.
YEAH, THERE YOU GO.
PUDDLES, YOU WERE ABOUT THE SIZE OF A WALNUT WHEN WE GOT YOU.
THEY LOOK LIKE THEY'RE READY.
YEAH, AFTER NEVER BEING OUT OF A TANK, THEY'RE GOING TO ENJOY THIS BIG TANK CALLED AN OCEAN, HUH?
ALL RIGHT -- HAVE LOTS OF BABIES, GUYS.
ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?
YOU LOOK READY, YOU'RE BEATING ME UP ALREADY.
YOU GOT YOUR JEWELRY?
YES, OKAY, YOU CAN GO.