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Turtles in The Maldives

Today is International Turtle Day, this means that we must raise awareness about the 5 marvellous species of turtles that we find here in The Maldives, as well as the dangers they face.

At Maldives Secrets, we absolutely love marine life and every time we see turtles, we are simply in awe of their beauty and elegance. They are definitely one of our favourite marine animals to spot on underwater adventures in The Maldives. So, without further ado, let's learn more about the types of turtles you may come across in The Maldives!

You may already know that sea turtles are under threat, are hunted and on top of that, face immense challenges in the ocean with plastic pollution and overfishing... Some good news is that in 1995, The Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture banned the catching or killing of sea turtle species, as well as the importation and sale of turtles and turtle products.

Today, turtle poaching is increasingly rare, however, the harvesting of turtle eggs from nesting females continues to be an issue in The Maldives amongst locals. The act of egg collection on many turtle nesting beaches poses a grave threat and is one of the many reasons why turtles are listed as endangered.

Five of the seven species of sea turtles in the world can be found in The Maldives, and there are two species that are seen far more frequently than the others – the Green Sea Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle. If you’re lucky, you will see these mesmerising creatures on both snorkelling and diving trips, or around the islands’ house reef. Enjoy watching them gracefully and calmly glide up to the surface for a breath of air before swimming back to the underwater realm.

What species of sea turtles can you find in The Maldives?

Five of the seven species of sea turtles can be found in The Maldives, with the two most common being the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata) and the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas). You will also come across the Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys Olivacea) and the Loggerhead (Caretta Caretta) and Leatherback (Dermochelys Coriacea).

The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata)

Hawksbill Turtles (pictured above) are the most commonly seen turtle along the reefs of The Maldives. The name Hawksbill comes from the shape of the turtle’s beak which is looks like one of a hawk’s bill. This turtle has a relatively small head with a distinctive hawk-like beak, and flippers with two claws. The hawksbill turtles do not grow very large, they measure up to 90cm.

This small to medium-sized marine turtle has a beautifully coloured golden and brown oval shell, with a striking pattern, which serves as an effective camouflage in coral reefs. Their shell is usually hunted for and sold in the black market as jewellery. Hawksbill turtles are mainly carnivorous and appear to be opportunistic predators, using their narrow beaks to extract invertebrate prey from crevices on the reef. They also feed on algae, sea grasses, barnacles, fish, jellyfish and sponges.

The Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia Mydas)

Green Sea Turtles (pictured above) are one of the largest sea turtles and the only herbivore among the species. Green turtles are found mainly in tropical and subtropical waters. This species is predominantly vegetarian, feeding mostly on algae and sea grass and can hold their breath for hours at a time. They usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mainly on sea grass, biting off the tips of the blades of sea grass, which keeps the grass healthy.

These turtles can grow up to 100cm and like other species of sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches from where they hatched. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to 80 years in the wild.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta Caretta)

Loggerhead Sea Turtles (pictured above), or loggerheads, are so named due to their overly large heads with a horny beak that is significantly thicker than in other sea turtles. This species is the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world and have skin that ranges from yellow to brown, shells that are typically reddish brown with darker streaks, and front flippers that possess two claws. The average loggerhead measures around 90cm long when fully grown, although larger specimens of up to 280cm have been discovered and weigh approximately 135 kg, with the largest specimens weighing in at more than 450 kilograms.

The loggerhead sea turtle is found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific and spends most of its life in saltwater habitats, with females briefly coming ashore to lay eggs. Female loggerhead sea turtles lay an average of four egg clutches and then become quiescent, producing no eggs for two to three years. The loggerhead has a lifespan of 47–67 years. The loggerhead sea turtle is omnivorous, has powerful jaws and feed mainly on bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as shellfish, sponges, and jellyfish.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys Olivacea)

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (pictured above) are the smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles found in the world. Found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, these turtles are best known for their unique mass nesting called arribada, where thousands of females come together on the same beach to lay eggs.

The olive ridley turtle is closely related to the Kemp’s ridley turtle and is named for the generally greenish color of its skin and shell or carapace. Olive and Kemp’s ridley turtles only reach about only about two feet in shell length and weigh between 36 and 41 kg. The olive ridley is mostly carnivorous, feeding on such creatures as jellyfish, snails, crabs, and shrimp, but will occasionally eat algae and seaweed as well.

Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys Coricea)

Leatherback Sea Turtles (pictured above) are the largest of the turtle species. Named for their shell, which is leather-like rather than hard, like other turtles and has five ridges that run the length of the shell, leatherback sea turtles are one of the most migratory, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Leatherback turtles have severely declined during the last century as a result of intense egg collection and fisheries by-catch. Leatherbacks feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, making them susceptible to mistakenly swallowing plastic bags floating in the ocean, which can kill them.

Interesting facts about turtles

  • There are seven species of sea turtles, you can see 5 in The Maldives.

  • Sea turtles breathe air with lungs and can hold their breath for hours. The Green sea turtle is a pro and can stay underwater for as long as five hours!

  • Turtles don’t have teeth, but their beaks can give clues as to what they eat: a Hawksbill’s narrow, pointed beak helps it pull prey such as sponges from tight spaces in a coral reef; Green sea turtle’s jagged-edged beak is great for snipping sea grass and scraping algae off coral.

  • A female sea turtle comes ashore to nest, mostly at night. She uses her flippers to dig a nest and lays from 50 to 200 eggs. Then she covers them up with sand before heading back into the sea.

  • The temperature of the sand surrounding the eggs determines the sex of the baby turtles. A warmer nest temperature will give more females and cooler will favour males.

  • Incubation takes about two months. After hatching, baby turtles must crawl as fast as they can to the water and avoid a multitude of predators.

  • Sea turtles regularly navigate long distances to find the same tiny stretch of nesting beach. How they do it is one of nature’s greatest mysteries, but studies suggest they can detect both the angle and intensity of the earth’s magnetic field.

  • Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for much longer than humans have walked the earth. They have been around for the last 100 million years.

  • To reach their nesting grounds, sea turtles migrate long distances every 2-4 years, traveling back to the very same beaches where they were born.

  • Turtles live long lives – thought to be up to 50 years and can survive long periods without food.

When you encounter a turtle please respect its space, watching from a distance will allow you to view it for longer and not endanger the turtle in any way. Remember, never chase or attempt to touch a turtle.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post about the Turtles in The Maldives and hopefully it has inspired you to help, discover and be more aware of them!

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- Maldives Secrets Team

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