Atlantic Green Sea Turtle
Status: Endangered in Florida waters and the Pacific Coast of Mexico including the Gulf of California. Threatened elsewhere.
Adult green sea turtles grow to a length of four feet (1.3 meters) and range from 250 to 450 pounds (113-204 kilograms). Conant (1991) lists a record size of over 650 pounds (295 + kilograms). The adult's shell ranges from a rusty reddish brown to light brown with darker mottling. The most distinctive identifying character of the green turtle are the two large oblong preocular scales between their eyes. The green turtle is named for the color of its fat, not for its overall coloration.
Habitat and Distribution
Green sea turtles are generally found in shallow waters along reefs, in bays and estuaries. They are found throughout the world, predominantly in tropical and subtropical waters. On occasion isolated nesting may occur on the Texas coast. Freezing weather in 1983, 1984, 1989, and 2011 stunned a large number of juvenile green turtles in the Laguna Madre of South Texas. A nesting population of yet undetermined size exists between La Pesca and Tampico, in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Green sea turtles are known to migrate long distances (up to 1,400 miles) between feeding grounds and nesting beaches. This turtle is mostly herbivorous, feeding on a variety of sea grasses and marine algae including: Thalassia, Zostera, Cymodocea and Halophila. Depending on the size of the female, they lay from 75 to 150 eggs per clutch. Some females have been recorded laying as many as seven clutches in a season. The eggs incubate for 48 to 70 days. Like most sea turtle species, green sea turtles nest at night. Individual turtles only nest every 2, 3 or 4 years. In the Gulf of Mexico at Rancho Nuevo, green sea turtles begin nesting in June and continue through October.
Current Threats and Historic Reasons for Decline
Commercial canneries in Florida and Texas in the early 1900s took a heavy toll. Green turtle soup is a delicacy in most areas where the turtle is found. Ship manifests from the 1800s and before reveal a thriving trade in green turtles in the area of the mouth of the Rio Grande River (Rio Bravo) of Texas/Mexico.
Photos by Adrienne McCracken