One of the most loved creatures in the oceans around the world is the Sea Turtle. Luckily here on Koh Tao – translated from Thai to English means ‘Turtle Island’ – we have several types of sea turtles.
The two most common we see around the dive sites of Koh Tao are the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle.
The Hawksbill Turtle
The Hawksbill turtle is the most common turtle found in the waters around Koh Tao and is classed by the ICUN as critically endangered.
Growing up to one metre in length, an adult Hawksbill turtle weighs around 80 kilograms on average. There are many different ways of identifying a Hawksbill from other species of turtle. A Hawksbill, as its name suggests, has a hawk like beak that can be easily distinguished from other sea turtles.
Its carapace, also known as its shell, is made up of different segments that overlap each other and give it a serrated looking edge of the shell and also on each flipper there is a very distinctive claw at the end.
Hawksbill Turtles feed on sea sponges, sea anemones, algae and jelly fish and are highly resilient and resistant to their prey, which in some cases are highly toxic to other species.
We see Hawksbill turtles regularly around Koh Tao, especially on night dives as they love to find nests to sleep under rock outcroppings. We also have a resident Hawksbill turtle at White Rock, one of Koh Tao’s most popular dive sites.
The Green Turtle
The Green Turtle is much larger than the Hawksbill. Weighing up to an astonishing 300 kilograms for the largest and growing up one and a half metres in length, the Green Turtle is the third largest species of sea turtle. They are a little less common on Koh Tao than the Hawksbill but can be seen usually at Twins, another of the more popular dives sites around Koh Tao.
Swimming alongside one of these creatures is a wonderful experience; especially when, with one flick of their flipper they propel themselves through the water at speeds that don’t seem normal when compared to their size. I was fortunate enough to encounter a Green turtle on a recent night dive at Twins when one literally ‘shot past me’ and my Advanced Open Water students leaving us all in awe of this magnificent creature.
Reptiles, NOT Fish
Although turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean they are actually reptiles meaning they breathe air from the surface. A sea turtle, on average can hold its breath for two hours during the day, whilst at night – whilst sleeping; they can hold their breath for up 7 hours. There have even been reports of some kind of turtles hibernating and holding their breath for several months!
Run For It!
As reptiles, turtles lay eggs for reproduction. These eggs are not laid at sea but on land. The female turtle crawls up sandy beaches to dig their nests and lay their eggs inside before covering the hole. When the hatchlings are born they break free from their shells at similar times, scrambling towards the water.
This alerts predators, such as small marine animals or shorebirds that will wait until the baby turtles have hatched, or are in the process of breaking free. This is the time the predators will have the best opportunity to catch one of the baby turtles – when they are at their most vulnerable – as they are making a run for it.
As only really human beings and larger sharks eat adult Turtles this is often the most dangerous time of a turtle’s life – just after they have hatched. If they survive into adulthood, Green Turtles often live to 80 years old!
Author: Matt Bolton (PADI CD #463559)