Sea turtles inhabit warm waters of our planet’s oceans, bays and estuaries. They are similar to their terrestrial (land) cousins, the tortoises, and to freshwater turtles, except that their legs have been modified into flippers to aid them in swimming. Their shape has taken on a flattened, more streamlined appearance – tapering off in the rear to allow for less water resistance during swimming. All sea turtles except the leatherback turtle have a hard carapace (top shell) and another hard shell on the belly called the plastron. The carapace, as with all other turtles, incorporates their backbone, sternum and ribs. This is unlike most other animals whose backbone and ribs are free of a shell or skin.
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