Turtles have been returning to the same seagrasses off Egypt since the time of the pharaohs, according to new research.
The underwater meadows hold the key to saving the endangered marine reptiles from extinction, scientist said.
They evolved during the age of the dinosaurs and have long been known to have anti-microbial properties.
Now, a study has found generations of green sea turtles have been going back for 3,000 years.
Along the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, volunteers are active to protect their nests.
First author Willemien de Kock, a historical ecologist at Groningen University in the Netherlands, said: “We currently spend a lot of effort protecting the babies but not the place where they spend most of their time – the seagrass meadows.”
Green sea turtles get their name from the seagrass they eat. The flowering plants live in shallow sheltered areas and form bright green leaves turning into vast kaleidoscopes of color.
They are are full of life hosting many animals of different shapes and sizes. But like the rainforests and coral reefs the underwater gardens are threatened.
de Kock, who is studying for her PhD, combined modern data with archaeological findings.
As divers and snorkelers know, few things rival the experience of seeing a sea turtle up close. Some grow up to six feet long and weigh three-quarters of a ton.
So they float around for years grazing on anything they can find. Then, at about five years of age, they swim to the same area where their parents went for a herbivores diet of seagrass.
Satellite tracking data from Exeter University provided information on traveling routes and destinations. Tiny skin samples also revealed similar dietary patterns.
de Kock discovered for about three millennia 3,000 years green sea turtles have been feeding on sea grass meadows along the coasts of Egypt and West Libya.
The results for loggerhead turtles were less specific because they had a more varied diet.
Slow changes in a larger system, such as an animal population, go unnoticed because researchers redefine what the natural state was at the start of their careers.
Seagrasses also face increasing pressure from various sources of pollution and invasive species.
They destroy bacteria that harm ecosystems. Coral reefs are in better condition when they are nearby.
The plants fringe every continent except Antarctica. Global losses have been estimated at seven percent each year since 1990.
Seagrass beds are incredibly important habitat for juvenile and adult fish and crabs and shrimp. They also tend to be relatively sensitive indicators of water quality.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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