Our Environment

Gentle Reptiles: Sea Turtles

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, six of them can be found in the Caribbean!

Sea turtles are one of the most charismatic animals in the ocean. They are beautiful and gentle creatures that can be easily spotted while feeding, cruising or mating in coastal shallow waters. These animals are reptiles that have adapted to life in the oceans, so they spend most of their life cycle in the sea. Sea turtles are different from land turtles (often called tortoises). There are many differences between them, but the most evident are 1) sea turtles have paddle-like legs (fins) while land turtles have feet with nails, and 2) sea turtles cannot pull head and limbs into its shell whereas land turtles can.

Like all reptiles, sea turtles have lungs and must come to the surface to breathe air, although they are very good divers. They are slow-growing, late-maturing, and long-living animals, and no one knows for certain how long sea turtles live. Some studies have suggested they require 12 to 40 years or more just to reach adulthood!

Did You Know?

  • A green sea turtle can stay underwater for up to 5 hours
  • A leatherback turtle can weigh over 2000 pounds (907 kg)


Most sea turtles live in tropical and subtropical waters and have global distributions. Although they spend most of their life at sea, they come to land to lay their eggs, and their life cycle includes many long migrations for mating, nesting, and feeding.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, six of them can be found in the Caribbean! All seven species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.  To learn how to identify different species of Caribbean sea turtles, check: www.widecast.org/Biology/Pictorial/PictorialKey

Watching them peacefully feeding on seagrass meadows or nesting in the white beaches are some of the most amazing things we have the opportunity to see in the Caribbean waters of Mexico. However, we must be careful when some turtles come to land to lay eggs. Noise, people, dogs, hotel beach chairs, and bright lights can disorientate or disturb female turtles and affect the very important task of nesting. More key facts and suggestions of behavior when encountering sea turtles at www.myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/florida/faq/ 

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