The Green Sea Turtle is the most common sea turtle coming to the beaches of Cancun to lay their eggs; more than 95% of nests in the area belong to this species.
The Green Sea Turtles is the second largest sea turtle after the Leatherback and the largest of the hard-shell sea turtles. Their typical, often adored turtle body with its flat body, heart-shaped shell and paddle-like flippers make them graceful swimmers. Adult green Sea Turtles are “vegetarians”. Their sharp and serrated mouth is perfect for grazing sea grass and sea weeds as well as scraping algae from hart surfaces which is believed to improve the health of sea grass beds and microhabitats within.
Only a few hundred years ago just the Caribbean was home to an estimated 500 million Green Sea Turtles providing an essential source of food for European explorers to the New World. Today these beautiful and amazing seawater reptiles are listed as an endangered species and their numbers are declining steadily. Only an estimated 85,000 to 90,000 nesting females are still around.
So let’s hope that many Green Sea Turtle eggs hatch in their protected nests and can be safely aided on their way to the ocean.
Green Sea Turtle Facts
Typical sea turtle appearance:
- Flattened body
- small head at the end of a short neck
- heart-shaped, smooth carapace (top shell)
- Paddle-like flippers aiding with quick and graceful swimming
Varied color pattern depending on habitat and age:
- Hatchlings have a mostly black shell
- Juvenile are dark brown to olive
- Mature adults are (dark) brown, some with spots or marbled stripes
- Underside of the shell (called plastron) light colored to yellowish
- Adults: length of 1 m (3 ft.) up to 1.50 m (5 ft.) with a weight of 150 kg (330 lbs.) to 180 kg (400lbs.)
- Hatchlings: length of 3 to 4 cm (1 to 1.5 inches) with a weight of around 25 to 30 g (around 1 ounce)
- Tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide
- Two major subpopulation: the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific population with their own nesting and feeding ground within their corresponding habitat
Move across three habitat types depending on their life stage:
- Lay eggs and hatch on beaches
- Hatchlings and young green turtles up to 5 years swim in deep, open ocean waters
- Adults are closer inshore in shallow coastal waters (bays, lagoons and shoals) with lots of sea grass
- Adults are mainly “vegetarians” feeding on sea grass, seaweeds and algae
- Juvenile green turtles also eat jellyfish, sponges and crabs
- 80 to 100 years
- Sexually mature at the age of 20 to 50 years
- Reproduce every 2 to 4 years
- Lay 2 to 5 clutches of eggs per season
- Mating in shallow waters close to the shore
- Females come ashore to nest (mainly their own nesting beach)
- Digging a pit in the sand and depositing 80 to 150 ping pong ball sized eggs into the nest
- Covering the nest with sand and returning to the sea
- Incubation period approx. 60 days
- After hatching baby turtles immediately head to the sea
- Nesting season in the Caribbean is from May to around September
- Adult Green Sea Turtles have few natural predators, mostly tiger sharks
- Eggs and hatchlings fall victim to seabirds, crabs, iguanas, predacious fish and small marine mammals
Human induced threats include:
- Harvest of their eggs and meat for human consumption
- Accidents with boat propellers
- Destruction of nesting areas and feeding grounds
- Incidental capture in commercial fishing lines and nets
- Fibropapillomatosis, a contagious disease characterized by lesions and tumors on eyes, mouth and soft-skin areas, later as well internal organs, that is believed to be connected with the pollution of the oceans.
- Lights near beach nesting areas confuses hatchlings and they move to the light instead towards the ocean
- The name Green Turtle doesn’t derive from the color of its shell, but from the greenish color of its body fat – a key ingredient of the popular 19th century American dish “green turtle soup”
- Green sea turtles are able to hold their breath for hours at a time when they are relaxed; when active they have to breathe every few minutes.
- They are cold blooded and warm themselves by swimming close to the surface
- Green Sea Turtles nest in 80 different countries.