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Sea turtles live in most oceans around the world and nest on beaches in the tropics and subtropics. Some species migrate thousands of miles to find food, crossing entire oceans in the process.
They spend their entire lives at sea, except when adult females come ashore to lay eggs several times per season every 2 to 5 years. In roughly sixty days, turtle hatchlings emerge from the nests to head to the ocean. Juvenile sea turtles spend their first years in the open oceans and move closer to shore into bays, estuaries, reefs, mangroves, and coastal waters.
These reptiles have been around for more than 100 million years but now six out of seven turtle species are threatened or endangered. Among the threats these marine creatures face are fishing gear entanglement, habitat loss, and poaching.
Giant leatherbacks are among the world’s largest reptiles and by far the biggest sea turtle species. Adults can weigh between 500 and 2,000 lbs and measure from 4 – 8 feet long. They get to this enormous size by eating large amounts of jellyfish, which their body has evolved to consume.
Leatherbacks differ from other turtle species in many ways but most obviously with their shell, which is a softer and more flexible without the scales typical of other turtles. Learn more about leatherbacks.
Green turtles are the second largest of sea turtles, weighing up to 500 lbs. and reaching 4 feet long. These turtles are named not for the color of their shell but for their fat, as these are the turtles most consumed for food.
As adults, they are primarily grazers, feeding on sea grasses in shallow waters. Greens in the Pacific are known as black turtles and some researchers believe they are a different species, though most consider them a sub-species of greens. Learn more about green turtles.
One of the smaller sea turtles, olive ridleys have one of the more fascinating nesting behaviors of any reptile. They can weigh up to about 100 lbs and can reach around 2 feet long.
These turtles nest in huge groups (as many as 100,000), coming ashore day and night for several days in an event known as an arribada (Spanish for ‘arrival’). Arribadas take place on just a few beaches around the world including Costa Rica, Mexico, and India. Learn more about olive ridleys.
Considered by many to be the most beautiful of sea turtles for their colorful shells, the hawksbill is found in tropical waters around the world. They spend their time in coral reefs, rocky areas, lagoons, mangroves, oceanic islands, and shallow coastal areas.
Named for its narrow head and sharp, bird-like beak, hawksbills can reach into cracks and crevices of coral reefs looking for food. Their diet is very specialized, feeding almost exclusively on sponges. One of the smaller turtles, adults weigh between 100-200 pounds (45 – 90 kg) and reach 2-3 feet (roughly .5 to 1 meter) in length. Learn more about hawksbills.