Do You Love Diving With Turtles? Can You Spot the Different Species of Turtles?
Turtles are among the best loved of sea-dwelling creatures. This is due both to their graceful movement, cute appearance and personality as well as their declining numbers and their need for human protection if you want to increase your chances of diving with turtles.
There are several different types of turtle throughout the world. In Thailand, Malaysia, the Maldive Islands, Indonesia and Fiji you are most likely to see Green Turtles, Hawksbills, Olive Ridleys and Leatherbacks.
In some scuba diving locations you may encounter 2 or more of these different types so it pays to know a little bit about how they differ from one another. Next time you are cruising along and spot the elegant swimming movements of one of these majestic creatures, a little bit of knowledge will make the encounter all the more special.
Size differs with species, Olive Ridleys being the smallest at around 60 cms in length and weighing around 45 kgs when fully mature. Leatherbacks on the other hand can grow to as much as 1.9m in length and have been known to weigh in at a whopping 916 kg!
Marine turtles are instantly recognisable by their large, streamlined shell and (unlike their land-based cousins) by their non-retractable head and limbs. Front flippers are used primarily for propulsion through the water while hind flippers act as stabilising rudders.
Depending on species, colouration may be olive-green, yellow, greenish-brown, or black. Interestingly Green Turtles are so-called because of the colour of their body fat rather than their external appearance.
So how do you tell them apart? Well there are numerous differences between the species but as an introduction let’s just look at one way you can identify which is which.
Green Turtles are easily distinguished from others because they have a single pair of pre-frontal scales (scales in front of the eyes), rather than 2 pairs as the other family members have.
Olive Ridleys are olive in colour and look out for the 2 pairs of pre-frontal scales and the standard mouth shape.
A Hawksbill has a narrow head with jaws meeting at an acute angle and with its upper jaw protruding out and curving slightly down much like the bill of a hawk, funnily enough.
The Leatherback should be reasonably easy to spot due either to its sheer size or by the prominent longitudinal ridges of cartilage running the length of its shell.
Hopefully next time you spot a turtle you can now surprise your diving buddies with an accurate identification!