Out of 8 types of sea turtles that exist in the world, 7 of these species reach Mexican coasts. Our country is truly fortunate to have such rich biodiversity and so accessible. You only need to go snorkeling at a beach like Akumal to find a handful of beautiful turtles swimming around.
In this brief guide, we give you the main characteristics as well as some fun facts about the types of turtles that come to the coasts of Quintana Roo, so that the next time you go on a snorkel tour in Cancun and find one of these fantastic animals, you can know what species you are running into.
There are 4 types of sea turtles in Quintana Roo
The state of Quintana Roo (particularly the northern zone) is the only region in the country where four species of turtles arrive: green (or white), hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback.
Read on to learn more about these types of sea turtles:
The Green Turtle is the only one of the 8 types of sea turtle that has been seen sunbathing out of the water. It is large in size; its shell is oval in shape and as the turtle ages, it becomes flatter.
FUN FACT: It is called a Green Turtle because the fat of its body is greenish, however, the color of its body is variable.
The hatchlings are dark with the edge of the fins and the belly white (some people call it ‘white turtle’ for this). The shell of juveniles is reddish-brown to olive-green; as adults, they turn dark brown with patterns of spots and multi-tone rays, with a yellowish belly.
Their length and weight vary according to their location; in Mexico, they have been recorded between 28-55 inches long (the average is 37 inches). Their weight has been recorded between 150-518 lb. There is a report for this species of an individual that weighed 870 lb, quite a record!
The Green Turtle can be found in almost all oceans, where the temperature does not drop below 20°C. They do not love the cold! Males never leave the sea and females go out to nest on different beaches around the world.
In Mexico, in addition to finding them in Quintana Roo, they reach the coasts of Baja California, and from Sinaloa to Chiapas, with greater abundance in Michoacán. On the Atlantic side, they nest in Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Campeche, and Yucatan.
This little cutie lives between coastal areas and the open sea. When they are babies they live in the open sea, and the juveniles and adults in the neritic zone, such as coral reefs, reef beds, marine grasslands (like the ones you find in Akumal), etc.
When it is juvenile its shell is heart-shaped and as it matures it lengthens. The plates on the edge of the carapace are pointed giving it a serrated appearance, except when they are very old individuals. The shape of its head slims towards the tip and the jaw looks like a strong, hooked, sharp-edged bird beak, which gives it its name: hawksbill.
This turtle is known all over the world for the appearance of its shell: dark brown with reddish tones and an amber background. It has patterns of streaks, stripes, and spots. Its body has dark brown spots on a light-colored background. The ventral side is more creamy yellow to white with some dark spots.
They are medium-sized compared to the other types of sea turtles that arrive in the Mexican Caribbean, as they measure between 24 and 44 inches long (average 34 cm). When they are adults, they weigh an average of 176 lb. In Mexico, female hawksbills that have nested in the Yucatan Peninsula have an average carapace curvature length of 36 inches and an average weight of 160 lb.
The Hawksbill Turtle lives in tropical and subtropical seas around the world. It is estimated to lay eggs on beaches in 60 different countries, most of which are low-density nests. In our country, it nests mainly in the states of Veracruz, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. In the Mexican Pacific, there are no nesting sites of importance, but it is occasionally recorded in beaches and islands of Michoacan, Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Oaxaca.
FUN FACT: The hawksbill turtle is considered to be the species of sea turtle that most likes to stay close to the coast and primarily tropical. It prefers particularly clear waters with rocky bottoms and abundant food.
It is a solitary turtle, except in the reproductive season when it can form small groups to spawn. It is believed that in the wild they can live between 30 and 50 years.
Of the types of sea turtles with hard shells, the Loggerhead Turtle is the largest of them all. Its shell is slightly heart-shaped, and adults tend to have barnacles and algae on top. Unlike the other types of turtles that arrive in the Mexican Caribbean, which have rather small heads, the loggerhead has a relatively large head compared to the body.
When they are young they have lighter and brighter colors, dominating the reddish-brown. The shell of the adults is reddish-brown with tones of olive green.
Data recorded for this species in Mexico indicate that its length is 29-41 inches, with an average of 36 inches, while the weight is between 145-236 kg, with an average of 176 kg.
The Loggerhead Turtle is found in the coastal waters of the world’s tropical and subtropical seas. In Mexico, it is possible to find them southwest of Baja California and within the Gulf of California, as well as in the Mexican Caribbean in the states of Quintana Roo and to a lesser extent in Campeche and Yucatan; occasionally it reaches the beaches of Veracruz and Tabasco.
FUN FACT: There is a record for this species of 4,828 km on a migratory route.
It can swim for more than 20 minutes on a dive, but the impressive thing is that, if it’ s at rest, it can last up to hours on the seabed! It is estimated that they can live up to 62 years in the wild, and 33 years have been recorded in captivity.
The leatherback is the world’s largest living sea turtle. Its body is fusiform and flattened; its large shell is smooth with seven rows of dorsal ridges and five ventral ridges, which run from head to tail; the head is relatively small.
The curious thing is that the shell of this type of turtle is not as strong as the others. Something that also stands out from its different shell is that, because of its shape, the leatherback turtle cannot retract its fins, and its tail and head only minimally. The thick layer of skin that forms its ‘shell’ contains fat, making it a thermal insulator that allows it to stay for long periods in warm and even cold waters (unlike the other types of turtles we saw, which prefer warm tropical waters).
FUN FACT: Its large size allows it to lose heat very slowly, in an effect called “gigantothermy“.
It is dark, almost black; the edges of its fins may be whitish and has a whitish mottling throughout the body. Its head and jaw are mottled white sometimes with slightly pinkish tones and the female has a characteristic pink dot on the crown of the head.
Mexican Pacific leatherback turtles measure between 51 and 100 inches in total length, with an average of 57.4. Their weight can reach just over a ton, but the average is 868 lbs. The heaviest leatherback turtle recorded in literature weighed 2019 lbs! This animal was found off the coast of Wales, England. However, it is 337 lbs lighter than the maximum recorded in Mexico. Unfortunately, individuals of such large sizes and weights are already very rare.
The Leatherback Turtle is a species that can be found almost anywhere in the world, depending on the time of year, thanks to the long distances they travel in their migrations and to the fact that it resists low temperatures better than the others.
It is a strong and fast swimmer and spends most of its life alone in the open sea. It is tremendously adaptable, as it has been found submerged to a depth of 1,230 m and has also been seen eating in coastal waters. In captivity, they live up to 30 years.
In the ’80s, 91 thousand females were registered in Mexican beaches; which turned Mexico into the main nesting site of Leatherback Turtles in the world. Since then, however, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of nests of the species in all populations.
Swim with various types of sea turtles in the Caribbean
One thing these 4 types of turtles have in common is that they all enjoy warm and calm beaches, with abundant seagrass and protected by a reef: the exact description of Akumal Bay! This beautiful beach is so well known for its population of sea turtles that many people already call it simply “Turtle Bay“.
The beautiful sea turtles found on this beach are protected by national authorities, which gives much security and tranquility to the already relaxed turtles. This makes the experience of snorkeling with them even more magical as they will transmit all their peace and harmony with their environment.
It’s one thing to read about these incredible creatures, but seeing them in the flesh and interacting with them is something you don’t forget. The best thing is that this is an ideal activity to do with children or older adults, as the crystal clear and shallow water of Akumal makes snorkeling there a simple and enjoyable experience.
Aquaworld’s Akumal turtle snorkel tour allows you to do this, and more! The fun doesn’t end after swimming with the various types of sea turtles; you can also swim among the stalactites and stalagmites of some magical cenotes in the Riviera Maya, in addition to exploring a dry cenote on foot.
Ready to make some awesome memories?