Green sea turtle in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Sea turtles are incredible and mysterious animals. They can outlive humans, don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 35 years of age and can mate for longer than 48 hours. Plus, no one knows where they disappear to for an entire chunk of their life, which is known as the ‘lost years’.
There are seven different species of sea turtles (you can tell each species apart from their jaw structure and shell shape). Most sea turtles can be found in tropical and sub tropical waters, and sea turtles are known to migrate thousands of kilometres across the ocean to breed and feed.
Swimming with these ancient reptiles is one of the most sought after and treasured dive experiences, and it’s easy to see why. Their friendly demeanour, and adorable facial expressions paired with their pure grace in the water are hard to tire of. Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful places to encounter sea turtles worldwide.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
6 of the 7 species of sea turtle can be spotted in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Thousands of kilometres long, the Reef provides sanctuary for sea turtles come to forage, breed and nest along it.
In the outer parts of the Great Barrier Reef, such as the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reefs, sea turtles are plentiful. The species you’ll be most likely to spot in the Great Barrier Reef are the green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtle. Olive Ridleys and leatherbacks have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef, but sighting aren’t as common.
Liveaboards that cruise the Great Barrier Reef visit dive sites along the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef, so your chances of bumping into plenty of sea turtles underwater are pretty high.
Sipadan Island in Borneo, Malaysia is a nesting site for sea turtles and a high aggregation of green sea turtles can be found year round. Along with spotting more sea turtles than you can count, you’ll be diving on some of the most superb coral reef systems in the world.
When sea turtles reach sexual maturity at around 30 years of age, they begin to migrate towards mating grounds to breed and lay their eggs. These grounds usually lie just off the nesting beach or are along the way. The mind-blowing thing about sea turtles is that females return to the exact same beach year after year to lay their eggs, and this beach is in turn the one they originally began their own life on. Sea turtles often navigate hundreds of kilometers to return to this particular beach, and scientists believe they do this through numerous methods including magnetic navigation and memory of landmarks. Mating season in Sipadan runs from July to November, and the best time to dive with huge amounts of green turtles is around August.
What can’t you see in the Maldives? Mantas, whale sharks, schools of hammerheads and of course plenty of sea turtles make the Maldives one of the most magical dive destinations.
South Male Atoll and North Male Atoll are great spots to dive with sea turtles, but you’re likely to see sea turtles on most dives you go on in the Maldives.
Cocos and Galapagos Islands
Both the Cocos Islands in Costa Rica and Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are dive meccas of marine mega-fauna, and are similar in the fact the diving conditions can be a little harsher but the marine life is absolutely magnificent.
The conditions in these areas can be a little tougher than in warmer parts of the world, so most liveaboards require divers to have completed a minimum number of logged dives prior to booking. However, the cooler temperatures and tougher conditions are worth it as you will have some of the most incredible dive experiences possible in the Cocos or Galapagos.
Green sea turtles are the only species of sea turtle to nest in the Galapagos Islands, and the Galapagos green turtle has a slightly darker and more domed shell than the green sea turtle. Hawksbill and green turtles can often be spotted when diving in the waters of the Cocos Islands.
Sea turtles face an uncertain future
Unfortunately, the much-loved sea turtle faces a whole myriad of threats. All seven species of sea turtle are threatened, and populations face problems caused by over-fishing, plastic pollution, climate change and human development.
Many species of sea turtle love to snack on jellyfish, which look very similar to plastic bags. As divers, we can make changes in our every day live to conserve turtles, such as reducing our plastic use and sourcing sustainable seafood.