GALLERIES > REPTILES AND HERPS > GREEN TURTLE [Chelonia mydas]
Location: Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, AustraliaGPS: -16.6S, 146.0E, elev=0' MAP
Date: April 10, 2017
ID : B13K3099 [4896 x 3264]
The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also known as the green turtle, black (sea) turtle, or Pacific green turtle, is a large sea turtle of the family Cheloniidae. It is the only species in the genus Chelonia. Its range extends throughout tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but it is also found in the Indian Ocean. The common name comes from the usually green fat found beneath its carapace; these turtles' shells are olive to black.
This sea turtle's dorsoventrally flattened body is covered by a large, teardrop-shaped carapace; it has a pair of large, paddle-like flippers. It is usually lightly colored, although in the eastern Pacific populations parts of the carapace can be almost black. Unlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle, C. mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses. The turtles bite off the tips of the blades of seagrass, which keeps the grass healthy.
Like other sea turtles, green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known as Turtle Island due to green sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to 80 years in the wild.
C. mydas is listed as endangered by the IUCN and CITES and is protected from exploitation in most countries. It is illegal to collect, harm, or kill them. In addition, many countries have laws and ordinances to protect nesting areas. However, turtles are still in danger due to human activity. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms turtles at both population and individual scales. Many turtles die after being caught in fishing nets. Also, real estate development often causes habitat loss by eliminating nesting beaches.
The green sea turtle is a member of the tribe Chelonini. A 1993 study clarified the status of genus Chelonia with respect to the other marine turtles. The carnivorous Eretmochelys (hawksbill), Caretta (loggerhead) and Lepidochelys (Ridley) were assigned to the tribe Carettini. Herbivorous Chelonia warranted their status as a genus, while Natator (flatback) was further removed from the other genera than previously believed.
The species was originally described by Linnaeus in 1758 as Testudo mydas. In 1868, Marie Firmin Bocourt named a particular species of sea turtle Chelonia agassizii. This "species" was referred to as the "black sea turtle". Later research determined Bocourt's "black sea turtle" was not genetically distinct from C. mydas, and thus taxonomically not a separate species. These two "species" were then united as Chelonia mydas and populations were given subspecies status: C. mydas mydas referred to the originally described population, while C. mydas agassizi referred only to the Pacific population known as the Galápagos green turtle. This subdivision was later determined to be invalid and all species members were then designated Chelonia mydas. The oft-mentioned name C. agassizi remains an invalid junior synonym of C. mydas. Other authorities claim that the two populations are phenotypically distinct and treat the East Pacific form as a full species.
The species' common name does not derive from any particular green external coloration of the turtle. Its name comes from the greenish color of the turtles' fat, which is only found in a layer between their inner organs and their shell. As a species found worldwide, the green turtle is called differently in some languages and dialects. In the Hawaiian language, honu is used to refer to this species. In Hawaii, the green sea turtle is referred to as ?honu? and is a symbol of good luck and longevity.
Its appearance is that of a typical sea turtle. C. mydas has a dorsoventrally flattened body, a beaked head at the end of a short neck, and paddle-like arms well-adapted for swimming. Adult green turtles grow to 1.5 metres (5 ft) long. The average weight of mature individuals is 68?190 kg (150?419 lb) and the average carapace length is 78?112 cm (31?44 in). Exceptional specimens can weigh 315 kg (694 lb) or even more, with the largest known C. mydas having weighed 395 kg (871 lb) and measured 153 cm (60 in) in carapace length.
Anatomically, a few characteristics distinguish the green turtle from the other members of its family. Unlike the closely related hawksbill turtle, the green turtle's snout is very short and its beak is unhooked. The neck cannot be pulled into the shell. The sheath of the turtle's upper jaw possesses a denticulated edge, while its lower jaw has stronger, serrated, more defined denticulation. The dorsal surface of the turtle's head has a single pair of prefrontal scales. Its carapace is composed of five central scutes flanked by four pairs of lateral scutes. Underneath, the green turtle has four pairs of inframarginal scutes covering the area between the turtle's plastron and its shell. Mature C. mydas front appendages have only a single claw (as opposed to the hawksbill's two), although a second claw is sometimes prominent in young specimens.
The carapace of the turtle has various color patterns that change over time. Hatchlings of Chelonia mydas, like those of other marine turtles, have mostly black carapaces and light-colored plastrons. Carapaces of juveniles turn dark brown to olive, while those of mature adults are either entirely brown, spotted, or marbled with variegated rays. Underneath, the turtle's plastron is hued yellow. C. mydas limbs are dark-colored and lined with yellow, and are usually marked with a large dark brown spot in the center of each appendage.
The diet of green turtles changes with age. Juveniles are carnivorous, but as they mature they become omnivorous. The young eat fish eggs, mollusks, jellyfish, small invertebrates, worms, sponges, algae, and crustaceans. Green sea turtles have a relatively slow growth rate because of the low nutritional value of their diet. Body fat turns green because of the consumed vegetation. This diet shift has an effect on the green turtle's skull morphology. Their serrated jaw helps them chew algae and sea grasses. Most adult sea turtles are strictly herbivorous.
The range of the green sea turtle extends throughout tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. The two major subpopulations are the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific subpopulations. Each population is genetically distinct, with its own set of nesting and feeding grounds within the population's known range. Their native range includes tropical to subtropical waters along continental coasts and islands between 30°N and 30°S. Since green sea turtles are a migrating species, their global distribution spans into the open ocean. The green sea turtle is estimated to inhabit coastal areas of more than 140 countries, with nesting sites in over 80 countries worldwide throughout the year. In the United States Atlantic coast, green sea turtles can be found from Texas and north to Massachusetts. In the United States Pacific coast, they have been found from southern California north to the southernmost tip of Alaska. The largest populations of green sea turtles within the United States coastline are in the Hawaiian Islands and Florida. Globally, the largest populations of sea turtles are in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Caribbean islands.
The green sea turtle can generally be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Individuals have been spotted as far north as Canada in the western Atlantic, and the British Isles in the east. The subpopulation's southern range is known until past the southern tip of Africa in the east and Argentina in the western Atlantic. The major nesting sites can be found on various islands in the Caribbean, along the eastern shores of the continental United States, the eastern coast of the South American continent and most notably, on isolated North Atlantic islands.
In the Caribbean, major nesting sites have been identified on Aves Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. In recent years there are signs of increased nesting in the Cayman Islands. One of the region's most important nesting grounds is in Tortuguero in Costa Rica. In fact, the majority of the Caribbean region's C. mydas population hails from a few beaches in Tortuguero. Within United States waters, minor nesting sites have been noted in the states of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and all along the east coast of Florida. Hutchinson Island in particular is a major nesting area in Florida waters. Notable locations in South America include secluded beaches in Suriname and French Guiana. In the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the most notable nesting grounds for Chelonia mydas are found on the island of Ascension, hosts 6,000?13,000 turtle nests.
In contrast with the sporadic distribution of nesting sites, feeding grounds are much more widely distributed throughout the region. Important feeding grounds in Florida include Indian River Lagoon, the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, Homosassa, Crystal River, and Cedar Key.
In the Pacific, its range reaches as far north as the southern coast of Alaska and as far south as Chile in the east. The turtle's distribution in the western Pacific reaches north to Japan and southern parts of Russia's Pacific coast, and as far south as the northern tip of New Zealand and a few islands south of Tasmania. The turtles can be found throughout the Indian Ocean.
Significant nesting grounds are scattered throughout the entire Pacific region, including Mexico, the Hawaiian Islands, the South Pacific, the northern coast of Australia, and Southeast Asia. Major Indian Ocean nesting colonies include India, Pakistan, and other coastal countries. The east coast of the African continent hosts a few nesting grounds, including islands in the waters around Madagascar.
Nesting grounds are found all along the Mexican coast. These turtles feed in seagrass pastures in the Gulf of California. Green turtles belonging to the distinct Hawaiian subpopulation nest at the protected French Frigate Shoals some 800 kilometers (500 mi) west of the Hawaiian Islands. In the Philippines, green turtles nest in the Turtle Islands along with closely related hawksbill turtles. Indonesia has a few nesting beaches, one in the Meru Betiri National Reserve in East Java. The Coral Sea has nesting areas of world significance. The Great Barrier Reef has two genetically distinct populations; one north and one south. Within the reef, twenty separate locations consisting of small islands and cays were identified as nesting sites for either population of C. mydas. Of these, the most important is on Raine Island. Major nesting sites are common on either side of the Arabian Sea, both in Ash Sharqiyah, Oman, and along the coast of Karachi, Pakistan. Some specific beaches there, such as Hawke's Bay and Sandspit, are common to both C. mydas and L. olivacea subpopulation. Sandy beaches along Sindh and Balochistan are nesting sites. Some 25 kilometers (16 mi) off the Pakistani coast, Astola island is another nesting beach.
On 30 December 2007, fishermen using a hulbot-hulbot (a type of fishnet) accidentally caught an 80 kg (180 lb), 93 cm (37 in) long and 82 cm (32 in) wide turtle off Barangay Bolong, Zamboanga City, Philippines. December is breeding season near the Bolong beach.
Green sea turtles move across three habitat types, depending on their life stage. They lay eggs on beaches. Mature turtles spend most of their time in shallow, coastal waters with lush seagrass beds. Adults frequent inshore bays, lagoons and shoals with lush seagrass meadows. Entire generations often migrate between one pair of feeding and nesting areas. Green sea turtles, Chelonia Mydas, are classified as an aquatic species and are distributed around the globe in warm tropical to subtropical waters. The environmental parameter that limits the distribution of the turtles is ocean temperatures below 7 to 10 degrees Celsius. Within their geographical range, the green sea turtles generally stay near continental and island coastlines. Near the coastlines, the green sea turtles live within shallow bays and protected shores. In these protected shores and bays, the green sea turtle habitats include coral reefs, salt marshes, and nearshore seagrass beds. The coral reefs provide red, brown, and green algae for their diet and gives protection from predators and rough storms within the ocean. The salt marshes and seagrass beds contain seaweed and grass vegetation, allowing ample habitat for the sea turtles.
Turtles spend most of their first five years in convergence zones within the bare open ocean that surround them. These young turtles are rarely seen as they swim in deep, pelagic waters. Green sea turtles typically swim at 2.5?3 km/h (1.6?1.9 mph)