Existing for more than 100 million years, sea turtles are one of Earth’s most ancient creatures. They are equally one of the most charismatic so much so that turtles have had starring roles on the big screen, such as in Finding Nemo. Yet it is their fragility, with all seven sea turtle species either critically endangered or vulnerable, that we must now look to protect to ensure the future of these iconic animals.

KEY FACTS

  • 7 species of sea turtle worldwide
  • On Earth for more than 100 million years
  • The largest turtle, the Leatherback, can weigh up to 900kg

Scientific name: Cheloniidae & Dermochelyidae sp.

Status: Vulnerable

Habitats: Open water and coasts

Size: 2-6ft

Weight: up to 900kg

Overview

From the shallow seagrass beds of the Indian Ocean to the colourful reefs of the Coral Triangle, turtles embark on delicately balanced lifecycles; undergoing the ordeal of dragging themselves up beaches to lay clutches of eggs up to 150 strong whilst avoiding the threat of predation and human encroachment,  upon hatching embarking on a treacherous journey into hungry seas, followed by decades of vulnerability to by-catch, habitat destruction and a human desire for their meat and carapaces, all to return to the very beach they hatched on to lay the foundations for the next generation.

Yet, due to significant conservation efforts, we are seeing reverses of worrying trends and are fortunate to be afforded windows into their miraculous lives. From mating rituals witnessed at Sipadan island in Malaysia to the pristine nesting beaches of the Maldives, encounters are still abundant and enchanting.

Evolution

Marine turtles belong to the larger group of reptiles known as Testudines, all of which possess a shell evolved from their ribs that acts to protect the body. The oldest known relative of modern sea turtles dates from 157 million years ago - making this group of reptiles older than other so-called ‘ancient’ animals such as crocodiles and snakes.

Today seven species of marine turtles are found across the world: the leatherback turtle, the largest of the group, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, loggerhead turtle, olive ridley turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle and the flatback turtle found in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The smallest marine turtle in the world is the Kemp’s ridley who’s shell reaches just 75cms in length, whereas the largest is the leatherback which can weigh up to 900kg and whose flippers can stretch to just short of 3m from tip to tip. However, these modern giants are dwarfed by Archelon ischyros, a prehistoric monster turtle who’s shell grew up to 4.6m in length.

Distribution

Marine turtles swim in every ocean of the world except those of the cold polar regions. The Kemp’s ridley turtle is only found in the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of the United States of America, whilst the flatback turtle is only found in northern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea. All the other species are found across the globe. In South East Asia, the most common species are green and hawksbill turtles.

Ecology & Behaviour

Immediately after hatching, marine turtles head straight out to the open ocean, where they then spend much of juvenile lives. During this time, little is known about the young turtles behaviour. It is only when reaching sexual maturity do the turtles return to coastal waters to feed and mate. The females then drag themselves onto the same beaches on which they were born to lay their eggs.

Marine turtles employ an unusual method of determining the sex of their young. The eggs are buried within the nest at a depth controlled by the female - she doesn’t simply dig away and leave the eggs when she has had enough. At this carefully chosen depth the eggs are incubated at a very precise temperature range - between 29-30c. Above this range, the hatchlings are predominantly female. Below, they are male.

Apart from adult green turtles which feed almost exclusively on algae, marine turtles are omnivores who’s diets include such things as soft corals, sponges, clams, sea urchins, crustaceans, algae and jellyfish. However, each species has its own particular niche and style of feeding - hawksbills for instance have a strong, curved beak, well suited to biting off pieces of soft coral or digging for sponges in coral rubble, whilst leatherbacks have spikes in their throats that allow them to hold onto their jellyfish prey.

Like most reptiles, marine turtles are cold blooded. However, proving the exception to the rule, the leatherback is capable of maintaining its body temperature many degrees higher than that of the surrounding water. This is most likely an adaptation to the cold water found at the depths at which the leatherback commonly feed. Even in the topics, the water gets cold in the deep, dark depths.

Threats

The unique lifestyle of marine turtles - one which is supremely adapted to life in the seas and yet tied to dry land for reproduction - means that these charismatic animals are particularly vulnerable to man’s activities. They may have successfully roamed the world’s oceans for millions of years but today their survival is threatened across the globe.

These threats include the development and destruction of nesting beaches and feeding grounds, the collection of eggs for food and their shells for jewellery, being caught up as bycatch by long lining fleets or trapped in fishing nets, and eating discarded plastics. Climate change may also have a devastating effect on turtles as the critical incubation of their eggs is so dependent on temperature.

Depsite these problems, locations such as the Maldives and Sabah, Malaysia, still have significant populations of these charismatic animals and ongoing conservation efforts are helping to preserve and protect the turtles that remain. As a diver and traveller you can also make a difference and help to make the world a better place for turtles:

  1. Stop using non-reusable plastic bags and straws - these are often eaten by turtles who mistake them for food.
  2. Ask the restaurants and bars you visit to consider removing straws and other non-reusable plastics from use in their business.
  3. If you eat fish, consider how it is caught. Unregulated long-lining and drift nets are responsible for the deaths of thousands of turtles every year.
  4. Make a donation to a conservation project working in the area where you travel to see turtles. 

SPECIES LIST


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FEATURED PACKAGES

The 4 day, 3 night package is the minimum stay required to guarantee a permit to dive Sipadan. To make the most of your day at Sipadan, Scuba Junkie schedules 4 dives on an extended day trip. And with only 4 guests per dive guide, you can enjoy the turtles, schooling fish and sharks without the crowds. This package includes accomodation in Scuba Junkie's comfortable fan-cooled dorm.

  • 4 divers to every guide
  • Full equipment rental
  • Transfer to and from Mabul at specified times
  • Meals, tea, coffee and water
  • Shared 8-bed dorm room, with ensuite bathrooms
  • GST at 6%
  • Sipadan permit fee RM40 per day
  • Semporna jetty fee RM10
  • Alcoholic and soft drinks at resort bar
  • Night dives
  • Airport transfers to and from Semporna
  • Tourism Tax of RM10 per night, payable at the resort


Dive Sipadan on a Budget

at Scuba Junkie Sipadan

On a budget but want to dive Sipadan? Come and stay in Scuba Junkie's comfortable dorm rooms

Duration
4 Days
3 Nights
Starts At US$715
Diving

Stay in Scuba Junkie's Water Bungalows - a little bit of luxury at an affordable price. Each bungalow comes with 24-hour electricity, fresh towels and ensuite bathrooms with showers. They also have a private balcony with sun loungers - perfect to watch the sunset and perhaps spot a turtle swimming in the shallows beneath.

The 8 day, 7 night package includes 18 dives at Derawan, Sangalaki, Kakaban, Semama and the atoll of Maratua, at the edge of Borneo's continental shelf. Day trips in search of whale shark encounters are also possible!

  • Full equipment rental.
  • All dive fees.
  • Breakfast, tea, coffee and water. Lunch is included on dive day trips.
  • Twin share accommodation in a water bungalow.
  • Alcoholic and soft drinks.
  • Dinner is not served at the resort. Guests can dine out in different warungs in the village.
  • Transfer to / from Tarakan at specified time.
  • If guests are traveling at times and dates other than the scheduled transfers, an additional fee may be charged. Minimum for additional transfer is 5 people.

Sangalaki Explorer

at Scuba Junkie Sangalaki

Explore the incredible marine life of Derawan, Sangalaki, Kakaban and Maratua

Duration
8 Days
7 Nights
Starts At US$850
Diving
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