(OCEAN CONSERVATION/SEA TURTLES) World Turtle Day takes place on May 23, and it’s about much more than just celebrating the cute creatures. More importantly, the purpose of World Turtle Day is to raise awareness and respect for turtles and tortoises and encourage human action to help them survive.

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Did you know the single greatest threat to most sea turtles is fishing gear? Photo Credit: Veolia Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Competition

Turtles hold a special place in all of our hearts. For instance, organizations like Oyster Worldwide offer conservation projects working with turtles in Costa Rica, and it’s one of the most popular projects for the volunteer travel specialists.

Sadly, turtle extinction is a great risk due to natural predation from other animals and human poaching. The Oyster Worldwide turtle conservation project works to help prevent turtle extinction specifically in Costa Rica.

Harriet Wray, Animal Welfare Travel Advisor for Oyster Worldwide, says:

“Animal conservation is a huge part of the volunteering projects here at Oyster Worldwide. Our turtle conservation project in Costa Rica is continually popular with our volunteers and it is very important to us to do all we can to help these animals survive.

World Turtle Day is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the extinction which turtles and tortoises face, which I don’t think many people are aware of. We hope we can at the very least help people to learn a bit more about turtles and perhaps do what they can to help protect them.”

Hawaii’s beloved green turtle Honu swimming free. Photo Credit: turtletown.com

This World Turtle Day, here are 12 facts you may not know about turtles to help raise awareness of this special animal:

1) Turtles have existed for approximately 215 million years. That means turtles have been alive considerably longer than humans.

2) If you’re wondering about the difference between turtles and tortoises, a tortoise is a type of turtle – but a turtle is not necessarily a tortoise. A turtle is any shelled reptile belonging to the order Chelonni. A tortoise is a terrestrial turtle, they tend to be herbivorous and can’t swim.

3) Turtles can have an exceptionally long life-span. Certain breeds of turtles, such as the American Box Turtle, can live to be over 100 years old.

4) The oldest-ever recorded turtle was called Tu”i Malila from Tongo Island, who lived to the grand old age of 188.

5) Turtles will live in almost any climate which is warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle. Turtles live on every continent except for Antarctica, where the climate is too cold.

6) Turtles vary greatly in size – the Bog Turtle is only 4inches big while the Leathery Turtle weighs in at an impressive 1500lb.

7) In North America you will find a large variety of different kinds of turtle species, however in Europe only two species of turtles and three species of tortoises can be seen.

8) The turtle’s iconic shell – the top part of which is called the carpace, and the bottom part called the plastron – is actually made up of 60 different bones connected together.

9) Turtles have excellent eyesight and an exceptionally strong sense of smell. Their hearing and sense of touch is also good, with even their hard shell containing nerve endings.

10) Turtles are one of the oldest and most primitive reptiles. They have outlived many other reptilian species and it is believed that their unique shell may be the reason for their longevity until now.

11) It is impossible for a turtle to come out of its shell. The turtle’s shell grows as it does, so it will never end up being too big for its shell.

12) Of approximately 300 species of turtles and tortoises, 129 are endangered or vulnerable. Threats include threats of habitat, poaching and the illegal pet trade.

The loggerhead sea turtle is just one of the animals benefiting from military assistance. Photo Credit: National Marine Life Center
Loggerhead sea turtles have been endangered since 1978. Photo Credit: National Marine Life Center

How to Get Involved in the Oyster Worlwide Turtle Conservation Project

Oyster Worldwide’s turtle conservation project takes place in the beautiful coastal areas of Costa Rica. As a volunteer on the project you will live in a beach paradise while protecting nesting and baby turtles in the area. You will help with the hatching of baby turtles and ensure turtles are returned safely to the sea.

The volunteer project runs in various dates through July to December. The project includes accommodation and food, as well as free time to explore the local area.

1 week costs £879 with each additional week costing £260.

You can contact an Oyster Worldwide representative to learn more about the project.