Build Your Own Sea Turtle

Grade Level: grade 6-8


Students will learn about marine turtle anatomy by constructing a model of a sea turtle.



flipper                     plastron

head                      aquatic

carapace               adaptation

streamline             scute




2 paper plates



Construction paper




Marine turtles are adapted for life in an aquatic environment. They have evolved so that their legs have become flippers which help them move more efficiently in the water. You can tell a lot about a turtle by observing how they are built.

There are 5 species of marine turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Each species is unique. One species of marine turtle grows up to 8 feet in length. Other species of turtles have specialized beaks designed for feeding on various types of marine animals.

Marine turtles are nearly 100% aquatic animals. They have paddle-like limbs which are designed for swimming quickly through the water. Their bodies are streamlined to reduce drag while moving through the water. This adaptation is known as hydrodynamics. Paddle-like flippers and a hydrodynamic body allow sea turtles to be successful in evading predators like sharks.

The head, flippers and neck are covered in scales. Marine turtles do not have teeth.  Their beaks have evolved with sharp cutting edges for tearing or crushing the various types of food they eat.

A sea turtle’s shell or carapace is very thick and hard. It is made of fused ribs and a thin outer layer that is made out of the same material as your fingernail (keratin). The carapace protects the turtle’s internal organs. It is visually divided into many sections which are called scutes.  Scientists learn to identify individual species based on the shape and number of these scutes.

The underside or belly of a sea turtle is called the plastron. It is not as solid and connected as the carapace, but it also serves to protect the internal organs. The pale color of the plastron serves as camouflage when viewed from below by predators (this is called 'counter-shading').



1. Collect your materials.

2. Face one plate bottom up, this will be your turtle’s shell or carapace. On this plate draw a design or color it to match one of the eight marine turtles found in the world’s oceans.

3. Copy or trace the pattern provided on construction or cardstock paper.

4. Cut out the body parts.

5. Arrange your shapes so that the head is located between the two longest flippers. The smaller flippers belong on opposite sides at the other end of the plate.

6. Glue your pieces to the inside of either one of your paper plates.

7. Apply glue to the rim of your plate and attach both plates facing each other, bottoms out.


Completed project: