The green turtle is the largest species in the family of hard-shelled sea turtles and second largest to the leatherback turtle among all sea turtles. Its common name comes not from the color of its skin or shell, which is common among most sea turtle species, but from the greenish color of its fat. The green turtle is the only sea turtle that is a strict herbivore, and its diet of seagrass and algae may contribute to the green fatty tissue.
Similarly to other sea turtles, green turtles are known to travel incredibly long distances during their lifetimes. In some cases, individuals may travel across entire ocean basins from their feeding areas to nesting beaches in the tropics and sub-tropics. Green turtles use the earth's magnetic field like an invisble map to navigate throughout their migrations. Like other marine turtles, female green turtles return to the same beach where they hatched to nest. The two largest remaining nesting areas (in terms of numbers of nesting females) for green turtles are the Caribbean coast of Central America and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Females will lay about 100 eggs per clutch and will nest several times over a few weeks. Once the eggs hatch, baby green turtles will make their way to the water and swim to offshore areas, where they will live for several years. Once juveniles reach a certain age and size range, they will leave the open ocean and travel to nearshore foraging grounds, where they shift to being primarily herbivores with a diet mainly consisting of seagrasses and algae. Both juvenile and adult green turtles are generally found nearshore, especially in areas with seagrass beds. Although green turtles generally only come to shore to nest, there is at least one population of green turtles (in Maui, Hawaii) that includes some individuals that are known to climb on beaches during the day, to rest in the sun.
The primary threats facing green turtles are degradation and loss of nesting and foraging habitats, direct killing of turtles and harvest of eggs, vessel strikes, accidentally being captured as bycatch in commercial or recreational fishing gear, and entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris. Although many countries around the world offer green turtles some or complete legal protection, threats to their nesting beaches and direct killing of turtles for their meat and collection of eggs still persist. All of these threats combined have caused green turtle populations to decrease to dangerously low levels.
1. The green turtle is the largest species of hard-shelled turtles, and is the second largest of all sea turtles.
2. Green turtles are 3 to 4 feet (91 to 122 cm) long and weigh 300 to 350 pounds (136 to 159 kg).
3. Green turtles are thought to live for 60 to 70 years, reaching sexual maturity at 25 to 35 years old.
4. Green turtles are named after their green-colored fat, which they get from their herbivorous diet of seagrass and algae.
5. Green turtles live all over the world and can be found off the coasts of more than 140 countries.
6. Typically, only female sea turtles will visit shores during their lifetime, but male and female green turtles are known to come ashore and bask in the sun on Hawaiian beaches.1
7. Female green turtles return to the same beach where they were born to nest, no matter how far it is.2
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.