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Last Updated: January 14, 2023

Meet the Ocean's Gentle Giants - Sea Turtles

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Are you a fan of sea turtles? Do you want to learn more about these amazing creatures and where you can find them in the wild? Look no further!

In this article, we'll introduce you to the different types of sea turtles found around the world and the locations where they can be seen. From the green sea turtle to the loggerhead, each species has its own unique characteristics and behaviors.

Keep reading to learn more about these beautiful and endangered animals, and then you can test your knowledge on our Quiz at the end of this article.

sea turtle

Did you know that sea turtles are ancient, aquatic reptiles that have been gliding through the oceans for millions of years? These graceful creatures have a knack for swimming, thanks to their streamlined shells and powerful flippers.

Unlike tortoises, which are land-dwelling creatures with legs, sea turtles are perfectly adapted to life in the sea.

But it's not all fun and games for sea turtles - they also play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of ocean ecosystems. Just like in the movie Finding Nemo, some sea turtles will migrate long distances each year in search of the perfect conditions for breeding and feeding. It's amazing to think about the incredible journeys these animals undertake to keep our oceans healthy and thriving.

Sea Turtle

Why are Sea Turtles so Important?

Sea turtles are like the superheroes of the ocean. These amazing animals play a crucial role in keeping their underwater world in check.

They happily munch on algae and other plants, keeping coral reefs and seagrass beds healthy and clean. And they don't just stick to veggie meals. They do more than just gobble and go - sea turtles also help to spread plant seeds far and wide as they swim and eat. Talk about a multi-talented, eco-friendly beast!"

Sea turtles also play a cultural and economic role in many coastal communities. These are popular attractions for tourists and a source of income for the community through turtle-related industries such as eco-tourism and shell craft. 

Sea Turtle Cultural

Read more about the culture and heritage role that sea turtles play in coastal communities.

An Overview of the Different Types of Sea Turtles Found Around the World

There are seven different species of sea turtles:

  • Green sea turtle
  • Hawksbill sea turtle
  • Leatherback sea turtle
  • Loggerhead sea turtle
  • Flatback Turtle
  • Olive Ridley Turtle
  • Kemp's Ridley Turtle
Sea Turtle Comparison

Meet the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Despite their name, green sea turtles aren't actually green in color - at least, not on the outside. These majestic marine animals are found in tropical and subtropical waters all around the world, and they're known for their striking greenish-yellow coloration.

But the real reason for their name? The green color of their fat is visible through their skin and shell. Gross? Maybe. Fascinating? Definitely.

With their large, heart-shaped heads and sharp, beak-like mouths, green sea turtles are well-equipped for biting and tearing their food. They also have smooth, streamlined bodies and shells that are typically brown or olive green in color, with a smooth and glossy appearance.

As herbivores, these turtles mainly feed on seagrasses and algae. In terms of size, green sea turtles can grow up to 3-4 feet in length and weigh up to 300-400 pounds.

Green Turtle

Where Can You Find Green Sea Turtles?

Green sea turtles call a variety of habitats home, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and sandy beaches.

These turtles can be found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. They also inhabit the waters around Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

A Plant-Loving, Deep-Diving Lifestyle

As herbivores, green sea turtles primarily munch on seagrasses and algae, but they also aren't afraid to mix things up with a little invertebrate snack every now and then (think: jellyfish and sponges). As migratory animals, green sea turtles travel far and wide in search of the best feeding grounds, and they're known to dive to impressive depths of up to 1,000 feet in search of sustenance.

When it's time to reproduce, female green sea turtles head to the beach to lay their eggs. These turtles typically lay clutches of around 100-125 eggs at a time, and they do so under the cover of darkness to increase the chances of success. All in all, it's a pretty impressive (and busy!) life for these plant-loving ocean dwellers.

In Danger: The Threats Facing Green Sea Turtles

Despite their impressive adaptability and wide distribution, green sea turtles are facing a number of serious threats. These include habitat destruction, pollution, and overfishing, as well as the danger of being caught in fishing nets and hit by boats.

Given the gravity of these threats, green sea turtles are protected by international law and it is illegal to hunt or trade them. However, conservation efforts are ongoing to help protect these amazing animals and ensure their survival.

The Striking Beauty of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hawksbill sea turtles are a tropical and subtropical species found around the world, and they're known for their distinctive beak-like jaws, which they use to feed on sponges and other invertebrates.

But it's not just their diet that sets them apart - these turtles are also known for their beautiful shells, which are often used in the production of jewelry and other decorative items.

With their unique features and striking appearance, it's no wonder that hawksbill sea turtles are a firm favorite of so many. 

Hawksbill Turtle

Their Physical Characteristics 

Hawksbill sea turtles are medium-sized turtles that can grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. With their unique, elongated head and sharp, beak-like mouth, these turtles are well-equipped for biting and tearing their food. They also have a small, triangular head and a pair of large, flippers that help them swim through the water with ease. When it comes to coloration, their shells are typically amber or brown and are covered in overlapping scales that give them a serrated appearance.

As omnivores, hawksbill sea turtles feed on a variety of prey, including sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates. They also enjoy a good helping of algae, seagrasses, and other plant material. These turtles are skilled divers and are known to dive to depths of up to 150 feet in search of food.

Habitats and Distribution

Hawksbill sea turtles are adaptable creatures that call a variety of habitats home, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.

These turtles can be found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Caribbean Sea. They also inhabit the waters around Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

The Nesting Habits

When it's time to reproduce, female hawksbill sea turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. These turtles use their flippers to dig a hole in the sand, where they lay their eggs and cover them with sand to protect them from predators.

Female hawksbill sea turtles typically lay clutches of around 80-110 eggs at a time.

Once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles emerge from the nest and head to the water to begin their life at sea. It's an impressive feat of strength and determination for these marine marvels.

Baby Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Nursery Pool

The Struggle to Save the Critically Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill sea turtles may be adaptable and widely distributed, but they are also a critically endangered species facing numerous threats.

From habitat destruction and pollution to overfishing and the danger of being caught in fishing nets or hit by boats, these turtles are up against a lot.

Fortunately, international law protects hawksbill sea turtles and it is illegal to hunt or trade them. Despite these protections, conservation efforts are ongoing to help safeguard these amazing animals and ensure their survival.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

The leatherback sea turtle is a large, majestic marine animal named for its unique, leathery shell. Unlike the hard, bony shells of other sea turtles, the leatherback's shell is soft and flexible, giving these turtles a distinctive appearance.

As the largest sea turtle species, leatherbacks can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).

These turtles are also the most migratory of all sea turtle species and can be found in a wide range of habitats, including tropical and subtropical waters as well as colder temperate waters.

Leatherback Turtle

Unique Physical Characteristics 

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest of all sea turtle species, with some individuals growing up to 7 feet in length and weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They have long, streamlined body that is perfectly adapted for swimming long distances through the water.

These turtles also have a large, pointed head with a sharp, beak-like mouth that they use for biting and tearing their food. Unlike other sea turtles, the shells of the Leatherback are soft and flexible, covered in a layer of tough, leathery skin. It's an impressive set of features for these giants of the ocean.

Wide-Ranging Distribution and Diverse Feeding Habits

Leatherback sea turtles are adaptable creatures that can be found in a variety of habitats, including the open ocean, coastal waters, and nearshore areas. These turtles are most commonly found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. They also inhabit the waters around Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Leatherback sea turtles are carnivores, which means that they primarily feed on animal tissue. They are known to feed primarily on jellyfish and other soft-bodied invertebrates, but they are also known to eat other prey such as squid, crabs, and fish. These turtles are very skilled divers and are known to dive to depths of up to 4,000 feet in search of food!

Nesting Habits and the Hatching Process

The reproduction and survival of leatherback sea turtles are heavily influenced by their nesting habits, which often involve laying clutches of 50-100 eggs.

The hatching process, which can be impacted by environmental factors such as sand temperature, is a crucial part of the life cycle of these amazing animals. Eggs laid in cooler sand may take longer to hatch, while eggs laid in warmer sand may hatch more quickly. The successful hatching of leatherback sea turtle eggs is a vital aspect of their biology.

Saving these Adaptable Creatures

Leatherback sea turtles, known for their adaptability and global distribution, are facing significant challenges that threaten their survival. Habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, entanglement in fishing nets, and collisions with boats are just a few of the dangers these animals face.

In recognition of these threats, international laws have been put in place to protect leatherback sea turtles, making it illegal to hunt or trade them. Despite these challenges, conservation efforts are underway to safeguard these incredible creatures and ensure their continued existence.

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) 

Loggerhead sea turtles are a majestic sight to behold with their massive, block-like heads and formidable jaws. These impressive creatures are the largest among the sea turtle species that inhabit coral reefs, and their shells range in color from amber to brown, with a smooth and glossy appearance.

Snorkelers and divers often spot these gentle giants near the surface. They can grow up to 3-4 feet in length and weigh up to 300-400 pounds.

Whether swimming through the crystal-clear waters or basking in the sun on the sandy shores, loggerhead sea turtles are a true wonder of the ocean.

Loggerhead Turtle

A Diverse Diet: From Sponges to Seagrasses

With their sharp, beak-like mouths designed for biting and tearing, loggerhead sea turtles are able to enjoy a diverse diet as omnivores. These impressive creatures feed on a range of prey, including sponges, anemones, crabs, shellfish, jellyfish, and other invertebrates, as well as algae, seagrasses, and other plant material.

Loggerhead sea turtles are skilled divers and have been known to plunge to depths of up to 150 feet in search of food.

Habitat: From Coral Reefs to Sandy Beaches

Loggerhead sea turtles are found in many types of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, sandy beaches, estuaries, and lagoons.

They are known to migrate long distances between feeding and nesting areas and are commonly found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. These turtles can also be found in the waters around Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. They have a widespread distribution and are widely recognized around the world.

Nesting Habits

They are known to nest on the beaches of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world. They are known to nest on the beaches of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world.

Female loggerhead sea turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. These turtles typically lay clutches of around 100-120 eggs. The time it takes for these eggs to hatch can vary based on factors such as sand temperature, humidity, and the location of the nest.

On average, it takes 50-70 days for Loggerhead turtle eggs to hatch. However, the hatching process can be impacted by environmental conditions, with eggs laid in cooler sand potentially taking longer to hatch and eggs laid in warmer sand hatching more quickly.

A Vulnerable Status: Protecting These Amazing Creatures

Loggerhead sea turtles are classified as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

This means that loggerhead sea turtles are at risk of becoming endangered in the near future, but they are not currently considered endangered or critically endangered. That said, Loggerhead sea turtles do face a number of threats, including habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and entanglement in fishing gear, which can impact their populations. As a result, conservation efforts are necessary to protect and conserve these animals.

Flatback sea turtles (Natator depressus)

Found in the waters around Australia and Papua New Guinea, Flatback sea turtles are medium-sized turtles that are named for their flat, low-profile shells, which are distinct from the high, domed shells of other sea turtle species.

These turtles can grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds, with a flat, triangular head and sharp, beak-like mouth used for biting and tearing into food.

Flatback sea turtles are typically olive green or brown in color, with a smooth, glossy shell and distinctive pattern of pale yellow and white markings on their shell and head. Overall, Flatback sea turtles are smaller and more streamlined than other sea turtle species, and are easily distinguished by their unique physical characteristics.

Flatback Turtle

Very Limited Habitat and Distribution

Flatback sea turtles are found in a variety of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and sandy beaches. However, these turtles are exclusively found in the waters around Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Within Australia, Flatback sea turtles can be found in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and the coastal waters along the northern coast, ranging from Shark Bay in Western Australia to Moreton Bay in Queensland. These turtles are not found in the southern or eastern parts of Australia. It is clear that the habitat and distribution of Flatback sea turtles are limited, making them a unique and important species to conserve.

A Diverse Diet 

As omnivores, Flatback sea turtles have a diverse diet that includes both animal and plant material. These turtles are known to feed on a range of prey, including jellyfish, sea cucumbers, sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates.

In addition to these animal-based sources of food, Flatback sea turtles also consume algae, seagrasses, and other plant material. These skilled divers are known to dive to depths of up to 50 feet in search of food. Overall, the feeding habits of Flatback sea turtles are an important part of their biology and ecology.

Nesting Habits - What We Know and What We're Still Learning

While Flatback sea turtles are known to nest on the beaches of Australia, there is still much that we don't know about their nesting habits.

One thing we do know is that female Flatback sea turtles typically lay clutches of eggs containing 50-100 eggs, and it takes about 50-65 days for the turtle eggs to hatch. However, there is still much research to be done to fully understand the nesting behavior of these turtles, including factors such as the timing of nesting, the frequency of nesting, and the location of nests.

Continued study of the nesting habits of Flatback sea turtles is essential for the conservation and management of this unique and important species.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea)

With their shimmering shells in shades of olive green and brown, Olive Ridley sea turtles are a sight to behold.

These medium-sized turtles can grow up to 2-3 feet long and weigh up to 100-125 pounds, with a small, triangular head and sharp, beak-like mouth for biting and tearing into their favorite foods.

Their shells have a smooth, glossy appearance that adds to their allure. 

Whether swimming through coral reefs, lounging in seagrass beds, or basking on sandy beaches, Olive Ridley sea turtles are a unique and beautiful species that bring a splash of color to the ocean.

Olive Ridley Turtle

A Wide-Ranging Habitat and Distribution

Olive Ridley sea turtles are found in a variety of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and sandy beaches. These turtles are commonly found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

They also inhabit the waters around Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In short, Olive Ridley sea turtles have a broad distribution across the globe, making them a widely recognized species.

Masters of the Underwater Buffet

Olive Ridley sea turtles are omnivorous creatures with a diverse diet that includes both plant and animal matter. These skilled divers are known to dive to depths of up to 50 feet in search of their favorite foods, including sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates, as well as algae, seagrasses, and other plant material.

In addition to munching on these tasty treats, Olive Ridley sea turtles also feed on crabs, shrimp, and mollusks. With their ability to dive deep and seek out a wide range of food sources, it's no wonder that these turtles are masters of the underwater buffet.

Nesting Behavior

Olive Ridley sea turtles are known for their unique mating behavior, which involves mass nesting events known as "arribadas." During these events, thousands of female Olive Ridley's come ashore at the same time to lay their eggs, often resulting in a spectacular sight.

This behavior is believed to be a strategy to increase the chances of survival for their offspring, as the sheer number of eggs laid makes it more difficult for predators to find and eat them all.

Female Olive Ridley sea turtles typically lay clutches of eggs that contain around 100-120 eggs, and the hatching process takes about 50-60 days. The baby turtle hatching process can be affected by environmental factors such as the temperature of the sand and humidity.

Threats Facing Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are protected under various international and national laws.

Despite their adaptability and wide distribution, these amazing animals face numerous threats such as habitat destruction, pollution, and overfishing. Like other sea turtles and marine creatures, Olive Ridley sea turtles are vulnerable to accidental capture in fishing gear and being hit by boats.

In addition, Olive Ridley's are sometimes hunted for their meat, eggs, and shells, and their shells are used to make jewelry and other products.

It is illegal to hunt or trade Olive Ridley turtles and conservation efforts are underway to protect these animals and ensure their continued survival.

The Small but Mighty Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp's Ridley sea turtle is a small to medium-sized species with a big impact on the world's oceans.

Named after Richard Kemp, who was one of the first people to study and describe this turtle, the Kemp's Ridley is known for its small to medium size, reaching lengths of 2-2.5 feet and weighing up to 100 pounds.

With a triangular head and sharp, beak-like mouth, the Kemp's ridley is well-equipped for biting and tearing into food.

Their shells are typically gray or greenish-gray in color and have a smooth, glossy appearance. These endearing sea turtles are a delight to encounter in the wild and are an important part of the marine ecosystem.

Kemp's Ridley Turtle

A Dynamic Habitat

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are found in a diverse range of habitats, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and sandy beaches. These adaptable creatures are commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean, along the coasts of the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.

These areas provide a rich tapestry of environments for Kemp's Ridley's to thrive in, making them a vital part of the marine ecosystem in these regions.

The Diet of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are known to have a diverse diet that includes both plant and animal matter. These skilled divers can often be found diving to depths of up to 50 feet in search of food, including prey such as sponges, anemones, and other invertebrates.

In addition to these marine creatures, Kemp's  Ridley sea turtles also enjoy munching on algae, seagrasses, and other plant material. As omnivores, they are able to adapt their diet to the resources available in their habitat.

Unique Nesting Habits

Did you know that Kemp's Ridley sea turtles have a unique characteristic of coming ashore to lay their eggs during the day, rather than at night like many other species of sea turtles?

Female Kemp's Ridley's lay their eggs on sandy beaches, typically in clutches of around 100-110 eggs. The eggs incubate for 45-70 days, at which point the sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way toward the water. The length of time it takes for the eggs to hatch depends on various factors such as sand temperature, humidity, and nest location.

Threats Facing Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Despite their adaptability and wide distribution, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are facing numerous threats, including habitat destruction, pollution, and overfishing.

One of the most significant threats facing Kemp's Ridley sea turtles is the loss of their nesting habitat. These turtles rely on specific stretches of sandy beach to lay their eggs, and the destruction of these habitats due to development and other human activities can have serious consequences for the species.

In addition, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are vulnerable to the effects of pollution, including oil spills and the ingestion of plastic debris. Conservation efforts are underway to protect Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and ensure their continued survival. These efforts include habitat restoration, the development of nesting beach protection programs, and the implementation of fishing gear modifications to reduce the risk of sea turtles being caught accidentally. Because of these threats, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are protected by international law, and it is illegal to hunt or trade them.

Sea Turtle
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About the Author

Sharon McKenzie

Sharon loves to be near the water and has been spending time at the beach as a child. She spends most of her spare time doing water sports, such as snorkeling, paddle boarding, and Scuba Diving. Her next goal is to travel around Australia visiting the best swimming spots.

Author Web Link

Sharon McKenzie - Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Snorkeling

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