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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Green Sea Turtle Chelonia mydas

Elegantly marked and very effectively streamlined, the green turtle is the most common turtle in subtropical and tropical waters, where it is often seen in eelgrass beds and on coral reefs. Its color varies from green to dark brown, but its scales and shell plates (scutes) are lighter where they meet, giving it a distinctive, checkered pattern.

Like all marine turtles, it has front flippers that are long and broad and beat up and down like wings. They provide the power for swimming, while the much shorter rear flippers act as stabilizers. Young green turtles are carnivorous, eating mollusks and other small animals, but the adults feed mainly on eelgrass and algae—a diet that keeps them close to the coast.

Green turtles breed on isolated beaches, and they are remarkably faithful to their nesting sites. To reach them, some make journeys of more than 600 miles (1,000 km), navigating their way to remote islands that may be just a few miles across.

They mate in the shallows, and the females then crawl ashore after dark to dig their nests and lay eggs. Green turtles lay up to 200 eggs, burying them about 30 in (75 cm) beneath the sand. The eggs take about 6–8 weeks to hatch. All the young emerge simultaneously and scuttle for the safety of the waves. The green turtle has been hunted for centuries, mainly for food, and its numbers have declined significantly. Conservation measures include protection of the turtles’ nest sites, so that the young have a better chance of reaching the sea.

A Green Turtle's Early Life

After hatching while buried in the sand, the young green turtles use their front flippers to dig toward the surface. They then make a dash for the sea, trying to avoid becoming a meal for waiting predators, including birds, crabs, snakes, and ants. Very little is known about their early life, as young green turtles are rarely observed in the wild, but it is certain that they face many predators in the sea. Their growth rate is known to average more than 11 lb (5 kg) per year.

Threats to Green Turtles

Breeding populations of green sea turtles in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico are endangered with extinction, while all other populations are threatened. Globally, green turtles have declined by at least 37 percent and possibly over 70 percent during the last 140 years.

The principal cause of global decline has been the direct poaching of eggs and the capture of nesting females and turtles foraging in coastal waters for human consumption. Fishing gear, particularly traps, trawls and gillnets, also poses a threat to green sea turtles.

What Oceana Does to Protect Green Turtles

Oceana's campaign to save sea turtles is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations in the world's oceans. The campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles.

Green Turtlezoom image
  • Order Chelonia
  • Length 2–3 ft (0.8–1 m)
  • Weight 140–290 lb (65–130 kg)
  • Habitat Open sea, coral reefs, coasts
  • Distribution Tropical and temperate waters worldwide
Green Turtle habitat mapzoom image