The Galapagos islands are an important breeding site for Pacific Green Sea Turtles. Every year mothers dig nests on Galapagos beaches to lay their eggs. Two months later hundreds of cute baby turtle hatchlings dash to the sea. For visitors, the Galapagos sea turtle is a fairly common sight. These gentle creatures can often be spotted coming up for air, bobbing their heads out of the water. Underwater too they are inquisitive, swimming up close to surprised snorkelers. If really lucky you might even see Galapagos sea turtle babies swimming together, attracted by the light of cruise yachts.
Read on for everything you need to know about the Galapagos sea turtle. Where and when can you see them? Plus heaps of fun sea turtle facts.
The Galapagos sea turtle is a BREEDING ENDEMIC SPECIES.
Conservation Status: Endangered
Scientific Name: Chelonia Mydas
The Galapagos Green Sea Turtle is the only turtle species to breed and nest at Galapagos, and is a common sighting in shallow waters across the archipelago. The easiest way to see them is by taking a Galapagos cruise.
Snorkeling with Galapagos sea turtles is a great highlight for many tourists. You can often get up very close to these gentle marine giants, and a great opportunity for amazing underwater photos. Snorkeling is an every day activity on cruise itineraries, at different sites around the archipelago.
The good news is that Galapagos sea turtles can be spotted in the waters around every Galapagos island. Two of the largest nesting sites are found at Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz island) and Punta Cormorant (Floreana island). Females lay eggs and baby turtles hatch at night to avoid predators. For this reason it is unusual for tourists to see action at the nesting sites. What you can see are the tell-tale flipper-paths left in the sand leading up to nesting holes on higher ground. Sometimes recently hatched baby turtles are attracted to yacht lights at night time, especially close to nesting sites.
Galapagos sea turtles can be spotted in the sea all year round. Nesting season runs from December to March, and baby hatchlings are most common around May.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS TOUR QUOTE, or for more information to plan your Galapagos vacation.
Their name comes from the greenish color of their flesh, a result of their algae diet. They are large creatures, growing up to one and a half metres in length, and weighing an average of 200 kilograms. The principal difference from other marine turtles is their serrated lower jaw, and a single pair of scales that cover their eyes.
Sea turtle mating occurs at sea during the warmer months at the start of the year. Only the female comes to land to lay their eggs, crawling up the beach past the high tide mark and digging a nest with their flippers. She lays between 50 to 200 eggs per clutch, and often digs a fake nest alongside to confuse potential predators. She then returns to the ocean, her job done. Incubation takes from 45-70 days. Gender of sea turtle hatchlings depends on the temperature of the eggs in the nest. It’s easy to remember as Hot Chicks (females at warmer temperatures) or Cool Dudes (males at lower temperatures).
Galapagos sea turtle babies emerge at night. It is a stressful and harrowing start to their lives. They must make a quick dash to the ocean before land predators catch them. Many eggs in a clutch will hatch at the same time for safety in numbers. The only guide that these young sea turtles have is the reflection of moonlight on the water. They scurry across the sand towards the light as fast as their little flippers will carry them.
Hungry Frigate Birds, Gulls, Hawks, crabs and other predators lie in their path. Even for those that do successfully reach the water, sharks are more than happy to feast on them. In truth few hatchlings survive this terrifying ordeal to tell the tale, perhaps just 1 or 2%. For the lucky few who do make it, they will face a daily battle in the oceans to reach maturity at 25+ years old, ready to return and mate for themselves.
Adults turtles are vegetarians, feeding on sea grass, algae and mangrove leaves. Juveniles will eat pretty much anything they find, from crustaceans to seaweed, jellyfish, and fish eggs. Tragically, Galapagos sea turtles often confuse plastic waste in the sea for jellyfish, ingesting plastic trash with often tragic consequences.
Today, the green sea turtle is listed as an endangered species by the IUCN red list. At Galapagos they face a variety of different threats, although efforts are ungoing to protect them.
Galapagos sea turtle nesting sites are easily disturbed by invasive species. Goats, cats and dogs are always in search of an easy meal. Feral pigs are known to destroy entire nests if they discover them. The small trox beetle can also kill a whole clutch before any have hatched. For these reasons the Galapagos National Park closely monitors turtle nesting sites. They flag off active nests so visitors know to keep their distance, and guides patrol at night.
Adult sea turtles are also targeted by fisheries. They are valued in Asian markets for their shells, cartilage and meat. Within the confines of the Galapagos Marine Reserve they are protected, but as soon as they set foot outside they are fair game for fishing fleets.
Plastic waste from humans is also a great problem. If a sea turtle ingests plastic trash it can often be fatal. The Galapagos islands are now plastic-free for visiting tourists, which is a big step in the right direction.
Other sea turtle threats are habitat degradation, disease, and even light pollution. Galapagos sea turtle hatchlings are easily tempted away from the sea towards human settlements by light.
• Have you ever seen Galapagos Sea Turtle tears? While it may appear that they are crying, this is in fact a healthy process of cleansing by salt elimination. They use special glands under their eyes to emit salty tears.
• National Geographic reported an adult male sea turtle who traveled from Cocos Island Marine National Park in Costa Rica to Galapagos in 14 days. The 400-mile trek is becoming known as a migratory path between the two reserves used by sharks, turtles, and other sea creatures.
• When a Green Sea Turtle is under stress it is unable to spend a long time underwater. So if they need to flee a predator, they also need to surface quickly to breathe. Equally, if caught in fishing nets there is a high risk that a sea turtle will drown under water.
• Other migratory sea turtle species that visit Galapagos waters include: Leatherbacks, Hawksbill, and the smaller Olive Ridley Turtle. But these sightings are less common that the Green Sea Turtle.
• Galapagos Sea Turtles have made some interesting evolutionary adaptations. They have lighter & more streamlined shells than Land Tortoises. Also their feet evolved into efficient flippers capable of swimming as fast as 35 miles per hour.
If you enjoyed this blog, then check out more information about other Galapagos Animal Species.
In conclusion, the Galapagos sea turtle is a lovely species to encounter. They are gentle and mellow creatures, happy to live life in the Galapagos slow lane. Snorkelers should definitely keep an eye out for them, and have your underwater camera handy. Also, use your imagination if you visit a sea turtle nesting site. Picture baby hatchlings running down the sand to the ocean in their first breaths of freedom. This is nature in its purest form, the fight for survival. The reward for the lucky few is an 80 happy turtle year lifetime in the rich Galapagos waters, and the occasional encounter with visiting humans.