Green sea turtle: Chelonia mydas

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chelonia
Order: Testudines       
Family: Cheloniidae
Genus/Species: Chelonia mydas
Common Name: Green sea turtle

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: G3/S2 (Globally: Rare/State: Imperiled)
IUCN Status: EN (Endangered)

Physical Description

The green sea turtle is a marine-dwelling species that can reach a length of 3.2 feet (98 centimeters) and a weight up to 400 pounds (181.4 kilograms) (Witherington et al. 2006). The name can be confusing as the green sea turtle carapace (top portion of the shell) is not actually green, the body fat is green. This turtle species has a black carapace and a white plastron (lower shell portion). The green sea turtle is distinguished from other sea turtles by its four pair of coastal (lateral) scutes and one pair of elongated prefrontal scales located between the eyes (NMFS and USFWS 1991).

Life History

The diet of the green sea turtle primarily consists of algae and seagrasses.

During the breeding season, late spring and early summer, male sea turtles will migrate to off-shore waters to mate with females. Nesting seasons vary in the different geographical areas of their range; however, the Florida population nests between the months of June and September. Female green sea turtles come onshore at night to deposit eggs, a process that can take up to two hours to finish. The average clutch size is 110-115 eggs. Green sea turtles can nest up to seven times per season (NMFS and USFWS 1991). Once the female lays the eggs and buries them in the sand, she returns to the ocean leaving her young to safeguard theirselves. The incubation time for the eggs is two months. Hatchlings will migrate to the ocean after emerging from the nest. During migration, juveniles face an array of problems including predation and losing their way to the ocean. Sexual maturity is reached between the ages of 20 to 50 years old.

Habitat and Distribution

Green SeaTurtle Distribution Map

Green sea turtles can be found in subtropical and temperate oceans of the world (Witherington, 2006).


The green sea turtle faces many threats both on land and in the water. The main threat to green sea turtles at sea is entanglement in fishing gear such as longlines, monofilament fishing line, nets, and crab trap lines. When entangled in marine debris, the green sea turtle cannot escape and usually drowns. Green sea turtles are also harvested illegally in some countries for their meat and eggs. On land, increased beach development is an ongoing threat for sea turtles as development can cause degradation of the habitat, and limit the amount of nesting sites available. Coastal development also increases artificial lighting which can cause hatchlings to migrate towards the lights instead of the ocean. Other threats include increased predation on eggs, hits by watercraft, and habitat degradation from contaminants and pollutants (ex. oil spills).

Conservation and Management

The green sea turtle is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website, and by Florida's Marine Turtle Protection Act (379.2431, Florida Statutes) External Website.

Florida Statutes (F.A.C. Rule 68E-1) External Website restrict the take, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation, and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs.  Protection is also afforded to marine turtle habitat.  A specific authorization from Commission staff is required to conduct scientific, conservation, or educational activities that directly involve marine turtles in or collected from Florida, their nests, hatchlings or parts thereof, regardless of applicant's possession of any federal permit.

Federal Recovery Plan External Website

Other Informative Links

Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
FWC Artificial Light Information
FWC Sea Turtle Page
National Geographic External Website
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration External Website
National Wildlife Federation External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Factsheet External Website



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National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991.Recovery Plan for  US Population of Atlantic Green Turtle.  National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

Witherington, Blair, Richard Herren, and Michael Bresette. 2006. Chelonia mydas – Green Sea Turtle. In Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles. Pages 90-104.

Image Credit Photo courtesy of Blair Witherington, FWC

FWC Facts:
A shrimp escapes predators by quickly pulling its abdomen in toward its carapace (body). This motion shoots it through the water backward.

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