Where’s the best place in the world to scuba dive with turtles?
If you’re like me and love to see turtles when you scuba dive, then you’ll want to dive where you’re in the best place to see them.
The best place to scuba dive with turtles includes The Great Barrier Reef, the Red Sea in Egypt, Bonaire, Barbados and Akumal in the Caribbean sea and the Gulf of Mexico, Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef in Australia and Sipadan in Malaysia. There are seven species of extant sea turtles, which are explained in detail below.
Best place to scuba dive with turtles
There are many places around the world where you’ll see turtles. I’ve probably seen most of my sea turtles in the Red Sea, Egypt. But other great places include most islands in the Caribbean, The Great Barrier Reef and the Ningaloo Reef in Australia, the Maldives, Hawaii, Sipadan off Malaysia. Plus many other places around the world.
Some of the best places that I’ve seen turtles include the following:
The Red Sea Egypt sea turtles
Five of the seven extant species of marine turtle live in the Red Sea. In my opinion, the best way to see turtles in the Red Sea is to join a liveaboard boat trip.
Each time I’ve dived the Red Sea from a liveaboard, I’ve seen sea turtles on almost every dive site. That’s not to say you won’t see them when you shore dive from places like Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, because you will.
Probably one of the best times I experienced turtles was on a night dive on the Thistlegorm wreck. There’s a large plate under the main deck of the wreck where we came across two of the largest Leatherback Sea Turtles I’ve ever seen. They were laying there sleeping side by side.
We observed them and then swam away to leave them to continue their sleep. This became my best night dive ever.
The second time I had a lovely experience in the Red Sea with turtles was with a Hawksbill Sea Turtle. This experience was at around 5-6 metres (16-20 feet) at the end of a dive.
This turtle was feeding on jellyfish that were floating near the surface. I was holding some of the jellyfish and this wild Hawksbill was taking the jellyfish from my hand. It was an amazing experience to have a wild creature trust me and to take food from my hand in this way.
In addition to Leatherbacks and Hawksbill turtles, you will also find Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles and the Olive-Ridley Turtle in the Red Sea.
The Great Barrier Reef sea turtles
The Great Barier Reef is where you can see six of the seven sea turtles (see below for a list of all seven extant marine turtles). The sea turtles you’ll see there include Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, Leatherhead Turtles, Flatback Turtle, Olive Ridley Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle.
The best way once again to experience and to see turtles on the Great Barrier Reef is by liveaboard boat. On a liveaboard you get to do more dives per day and you are able to reach further out into the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.
The Great Barrier Reef and it’s many islands are home to the breeding grounds for all of these six marine turtle species.
West coast of Australia near the Ningaloo Reef
The east coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef is not the only place on this great continent to experience marine turtles.
It was on the beaches in Exmouth that I witnessed my first turtle laying. These beautiful creatures haul themselves up the beach, leaving what looks like tank tracks up the sand.
They then carefully dig an almost perfectly round hole with their back flippers. It’s only then that they lay their eggs, which are then carefully covered with sand and left to hatch some 45-55 days later for Loggerheads and 70-80 days for Leatherbacks.
I also recall stopping on my way up to Exmouth at a point which was probably about three quarters of the way there to see hundreds of turtles in the sea.
Looking out, I witnessed hundreds of turtle heads popping up for air, before dipping down out of site once more.
I apologise for not remembering this exact spot, but if you want to enjoy one of the best trips of Australia, I suggest you hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle and drive the west coast of Australia from Perth to Exmouth. It’s a long drive, but well worth it.
The Caribbean sea turtles
I’ve also seen many sea turtles on dives in the Caribbean, but not on every dive. Out of the seven extant species of sea turtle, there are five species that live in the Gulf Of Mexico.
Theses include Loggerhead Turtles, Kemps Ridley Turtles, Green Turtles, Leatherback Turtles and the Hawksbill Turtles.
One of the best places in the Caribbean to experience marine turtles could be Bonaire. The reason why I say Bonaire is five-fold.
- Bonaire is out of the main hurricane belt of the Caribbean so is rarely affected by hurricanes.
- The diving is all easy diving where on most dive sites you can choose your depth. This means that both beginner and advanced scuba divers can enjoy the diving there.
- Bonaire is one of the cheapest places to scuba dive in the world when you shore dive there.
- There are plenty of marine turtles to be seen on many of the dive sites.
- Many of the dive sites can be enjoyed whilst snorkeling too.
The other great place to experience turtles in the Caribbean is in Barbados. You can either find them when scuba diving there, or it easy to see them by snorkeling off the west coast near Hole Town.
Akumal, Mexico sea turtles
There’s a tiny beach in Mexico called Akumal where you can experience mostly Green Sea Turtles, but also Loggerhead Turtle too.
Akumal is about 100 kilometres (62 miles) south of Cancun, Mexico. It’s between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum and over looks Akumal Bay.
Akumal Bay was declared a marine refuge in March 2016 to protect the threatened turtle population. In fact Akumal is a Maya word meaning ‘place of the turtle.’
The area is protected by a reef and the waters are shallow, going down to a depth of around 5 metres (16 feet).
The sea bed is very sandy, where sea grass grows, which is what the Green Turtles feed on. The nesting season for the Green Turtles starts in May, but you might get to see the last of the hatchings at the end of October. If you miss the nesting season, you will see turtles in the bays and lagoon year-round.
Sipadan, Malaysia sea turtles
Sipadan is one of the top dive destinations in the world. In fact Sipadan is included on Jacques Cousteau’s list of top ten dive sites in the world.
Sipadan is one of the many protected nesting sites around the world. Whether you snorkel or scuba dive there, you are very likely to see turtles there.
Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. The island rises up 600 metres (1968 feet) from the sea bed and is located in the Celebes Sea. The sea life there is simply amazing, and included in this marine life are plenty of sea turtles.
Of the seven extant marine turtles, you are likely to see Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles there. On some dives, you are likely to see between 20-30 turtles one one dive.
Here’s a video of a dive from Sipadan:
Zakynthos or Zante, Greece
For those of you who live in the UK or Europe and don’t want to travel long-haul to see marine turtles, we have them on our door step in the Mediterranean. Zakynthos is a Greek Island and is known for an abundance of sea turtles.
In particular Loggerhead Sea Turtles are found around this small island in the Mediterranean Sea. There are boat trips with glass bottom boats for those that don’t like snorkeling or scuba diving. There’s a video below of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Zakynthos.
Every summer there are hundreds of Loggerhead Turtles that return to Zakynthos to mate and lay their eggs. They lay their eggs on the beaches in Laganas Bay.
Zakynthos or Zante is the most important nesting ground in Europe. It’s estimated that around 80% of the Mediterranean population of Loggerheads return to Laganas Bay each summer.
How to scuba dive with sea turtles
As with all wild sea creatures, respect is foremost important.
Never chase or harass sea turtles, as not only can they bite you with their strong beaks, but this isn’t the best way to enjoy them either.
The best way to enjoy your experience when you spot a turtle is to either let it swim to you, or to approach it slowly. Depending on how much interaction a turtle has had with scuba divers, will depend on how shy it will be you.
Some carry on with their feeding and daily life despite scuba divers being around. The more you leave them to their own thing, the more likely they are to stay around you for longer.
Sea turtle species
There are seven species of extant sea turtle around the world, which are:
Green Sea Turtle
The Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) can be found in both tropical and subtropical seas. They are found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Some confuse the name, thinking its shell should be green. But that’s not the case. The Green Turtle gets its name from the green fat found underneath its carapace. Whereas its shell is olive to black in colour.
The Green Turtle is a herbivorous reptile, living mostly on sea grasses in shallow lagoons.
Video of the Green Sea Turtle:
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), or sometimes called the lute or leathery turtle is the largest of all sea turtles. The Leatherback Turtle is also the fourth heaviest living reptile behind three types of crocodile. Leatherbacks can grow up to 2.7 metres (8.9 feet) in length.
It’s quite easy to distinguish the Leatherback Sea Turtle by its lack of bony shell. Which is how it got its name due to its more leather-like shell.
Due to their ability to maintain a high body temperature, Leatherback Turtles can be found as far north as Alaska and Norway and as far south as Cape Agulhas in Africa. They are also found around the southern most tip of New Zealand in the cold south ocean waters too.
Leatherback Turtles can be found in tropical, subtropical and arctic circle waters.
Leatherbacks are mostly found in open oceans and feed mainly on jellyfish. The Leatherback Sea Turtles are endangered, which is as a result of plastic bags in the oceans. They often mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish, which then blocks their digestive track.
Video of the Leatherback Sea Turtle:
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is the rarest of sea turtles. The smallest of all the sea turtles species, it’s also critically endangered. Adults reach only around 75cm (30 inches) in length.
It has an oval carapace or shell, which is olive-grey in colour. The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle prefers warmer waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, but can be found as far north as New Jersey.
They migrate to the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, but almost all females return to a single beach Rancho Nuevo to lay their eggs. They nest between April and August each year.
The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle’s diet consists mostly of crabs which they find in the shallow coastal waters.
Video of the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle:
Hawksbill Sea Turtle
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is another of the critically endanger sea turtle species. The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is easily recognisable by its sharp curving beak, but also but the saw-like appearance of the outer edges of its shell.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be found in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. They mostly live in and around the tropical reefs of the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Oceans, preferring only warmer seas. In the Atlantic, Hawksbill Sea Turtles can be found as far west as the Gulf of Mexico and as far east as the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
In the Caribbean, Barbados is a good place to see Hawksbill Sea Turtle, as they tend to next on the island of Barbados. But they can also be found in Guadeloupe, Costa Rica, Cuba and Puerto Rico amongst other places in the Caribbean.
In the Indo-Pacific region, they are found on the East coast of Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.
The main diet of Hawksbill Sea Turtles includes sea sponges, but they will also feed on jellyfish, anemones and algae too.
Video of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle on the Great Barrier Reef:
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
The Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and also in the Mediterranean Sea. They are the largest of all the hard-shelled sea turtles and are second largest to the Leatherback Sea Turtles.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles are an omnivorous reptile. They mainly eat bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as gastropods, bivalves and decapods. They also eat sponges, corals sea worms, sea anemones, sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers.
Video of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle in Zakynthos or Zante
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
The Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is also known as the Pacific Ridley Sea Turtle. It’s also the most abundant of all sea turtles around the world.
They are mostly found in the tropical and warm waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but also in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Their carapace is olive in colour and they grow to around two feet in length (0.6 metre). They are known for their mass nesting, and it’s on the coast of Odisha in India where there’s the largest mass nesting site for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle. This is closely, followed by the coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica.
The Olive Ridley Sea Turtle is mostly carnivorous living on snails, jellyfish, sea urchins, shrimp, crabs, rock lobsters and worms.
Video of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle:
Flatback Sea Turtle
The Flatback Sea Turtle (Natator depressus) can be found in the shallow coastal waters of Australia. They have an olive green to grey shell, with a cream underside.
The Flatback Sea Turtle is an omnivorous species, but predominately eats a carnivorous diet, feeding mostly on creatures they find in shallow coastal waters. Their diet includes soft corals, sea cucumbers, shrimp and jellyfish.
Video of the Flatback Sea Turtle:
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