marine turtles

green turtle

(Chelonia mydas)

Nesting green turtle (C) Peter Richardson/MCS

Once hunted for the trade in turtle soup, the green turtle manages to survive with populations throughout the tropics and the Mediterranean. The name derives from the greenish fat and cartilage, known as calipee, which was the main ingredient of turtle soup. Juvenile green turtles usually have a strikingly patterned chestnut-brown coloured carapace (shell), while adult green turtles usually have a greenish-grey carapace patterned with black markings. Different populations vary in appearance, with Eastern Pacific green turtles having a very dark carapace, leading some people to refer to them as black turtles. Genetic studies suggest these colour-variants are indeed green turtles.

How big? Up to 1.5 m long, green turtles can weigh 230 kg and are the second largest turtle.

What's on the menu? Young green turtles eat small marine creatures like shrimp and jellyfish, as well as floating insects, sea grass and marine algae. Their diet changes as they grow and as adults they feed almost exclusively on marine algae and seagrass. Recent studies suggest that the adults in some populations continue to feed on marine animals as well as marine plants.

Where do they live? Green turtles are found in all temperate and tropical seas, preferring shallow coastal waters. Nesting occurs throughout their range, with large rookeries found in Costa Rica, Ascension Island, West Africa, Malaysia and Australia. There is a small, highly endangered population in the Mediterranean. Juvenile green turtles occasionally occur in UK waters.

Endangered? Green turtles are listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as endangered. They have been hunted for centuries and used to be so numerous that they were regularly hauled aboard ships for their meat. The popularity of turtle soup increased their value and in the early 20th Century commercial harvesting decimated many populations. Conservation efforts have led to significant recovery at some large nesting populations.

If you want to find out more about green turtles and how you can help them, why not Adopt-a-Turtle?

Green turtle hatchling (C) Peter Richardson