Green sea turtles love to hang out in the Riviera Maya in Mexico. And the place they call home more than anywhere else is Akumal. A small beach town between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, the name Akumal comes from the Maya and means "place of turtles." If you want to hang out with turtles, go and swim with turtles in Akumal – it's the best place in Mexico for swimming with turtles. Each year hundreds of green sea turtles make Akumal their home. While an endangered species, the local community supports conservation efforts to protect the species. And there has been a steady increase in numbers in recent years. Find out 21 fun facts about green sea turtles.
No, it isn't! The green sea turtle's name is not from its skin color or shell. These are usually olive to black in color, not green. But because of the green-colored fat found beneath the turtle's shell. The fat is green from the seagrasses and other vegetation they eat. "The temperature of this green sea turtle nest is over 30 C, so all the hatchling turtles here will be females."
The green sea turtle is the largest hardshell turtle in the world. The largest known green turtle weighed 871 lbs, with a shell measuring more than 5 feet long! Living up to 80 years old. Generally, males are bigger than females, and both have heart-shaped shells. Yet, they are graceful swimmers due to their large, paddle-like flippers that power them through the water. Males are distinguished from females by their longer tails extending past their shells. Males usually also have longer claws on their front flippers.
“Did you know that if the temperature of a green sea turtle nest is over 30 C the hatchling turtles will be females?”
Green sea turtles are the only species of turtles that are herbivores. They only live by eating plants and only plants!
Green sea turtles graze on seagrasses and algae, which maintains the seagrass beds and makes them more productive (much like mowing the lawn to keep it healthy). Seagrass consumed by green turtles is quickly digested. It then becomes available as recycled nutrients to the many species of plants and animals in the ecosystem. Seagrass beds also function as nurseries for several species of invertebrates and fish. So when you swim with turtles, think about the role green sea turtles play in trimming, weeding, and fertilizing the seagrass beds!
In the coral reefs that the green sea turtles occupy, they have a very close relationship with reef fish. For example, Yellow and Blue Tang fish swim alongside the green sea turtles and feed on algae, barnacles, and parasites on its shell and flippers. The turtle provides food for the fish. While the reef fish clean the turtle. Thus improving their health and reducing the drag as it swims through the water.
How do green sea turtles travel hundreds of miles in the open ocean and then return home? Since green sea turtles migrate long distances, they have developed unique systems to allow them to navigate. In the open ocean, they navigate using wave direction, sunlight, and temperature. But they also have an internal magnetic compass of sorts. Through magnetic crystals in their brain, they sense the intensity of the earth's magnetic field. And thus, they can make their way back to nesting and feeding grounds after many years out at sea.
Although green sea turtles spend most of their life underwater, they need to come up for air to breathe. When reaching the surface, the turtle's lungs take an explosive exhalation. And then take a rapid inhale, replacing the air in their lungs. The green turtle's blood delivers oxygen efficiently throughout its body. Even under high pressure when diving. During routine activity, a green sea turtle can stay underwater for several minutes before surfacing to breathe again.
Green sea turtles have adapted to be able to withstand some heat loss. In cooler water, they direct blood away from tissue more tolerant of low oxygen levels. And send the blood to the heart, brain, and central nervous system. Another method they use to generate heat is floating close to the ocean's surface to absorb the heat from the sun. Or by increasing their activity and movement, generating heat from their muscles. Turtles can even hibernate for short periods.
Green sea turtles are reptiles and must surface to breathe and lay their eggs on land. Female Green sea turtles migrate hundreds to thousands of kilometers between their foraging grounds and nesting beaches, such as Akumal Beach (the best place to swim with turtles). They are solitary and nest only at night time. Female green sea turtles choose the same nesting spot where they were born and will dig out a nest with their flippers and lay a clutch of over 100 eggs. Then she'll cover the eggs with sand and return to the sea.
"Did you know that green sea turtles live up to 80 years old"
The community of Akumal is inextricably intertwined with sea turtles. And as a result, there are many conservation efforts. CEA is a non-profit headquartered in Akumal that leads many conservation efforts in the community. Their sea turtle conservation programs include beach patrols.
Starting in mid-April, teams of CEA volunteers patrol the beaches from 9 pm to 5 am. They keep a close eye out for nesting turtles and, if needed, guard the female so that she is not disturbed or scared away. Then data is collected and entered into the turtle database. This keeps track of the nests, the eggs, and the results of nesting and hatching activities.
Also, each nest is marked with a stake to show the area contains a turtle nest and should not be disturbed. During hatching season, patrols begin at sunrise. After finding a hatched nest, the volunteers gently clean the nest and count the eggs. Once in a while, they'll find a hatchling that has struggled to get out and will aid it on its way.
CEA also has other conservation programs. These include coral reef monitoring, coral reef restoration, and seagrass monitoring. All of which help the endangered green sea turtle population of Akumal to recover and grow.
Reviewed by 13,000 people, Akumal Beach ranks #1 out of 725 outdoor activities in the Riviera Maya on TripAdvisor. It is one of the most famous beaches around and is essential to visit. Whilst, the double barrier coral reef and warm Caribbean ocean make it a great place for turtles, it also gives rise to an amazing collection of tropical fish and other marine life. Above all, the snorkeling is incredible and you are almost guaranteed to swim with sea turtles.
Book your Snorkeling Tour in Akumal Bay Now for an experience of a lifetime.
Green sea turtles propel through the water using their strong paddle-like flippers. And while these beautiful animals like to cruise along at around 3km/hr, if threatened, they can reach speeds of up to 35km/h.
The Mexican Government regulates activities to protect green sea turtles. For example, snorkeling in Akumal is restricted in many ways. To swim with turtles in Akumal is the best place in Mexico. But, certain areas are prohibited from access to protect marine species and the coral reef. This ensures that the seagrasses and the coral reef grow in these areas. Also, fins are prohibited from being used when you swim with turtles in Akumal Beach. Again to protect the coral reef. Commercial tour operators are also limited in the number of snorkeling tours they can take. As well as on which days they can operate.
"Did you know that female green sea turtles only return to mate every 2-4 years?"
The green sea turtle eggs hatch 45-60 days after being left in the nest by using a special 'egg-tooth' to break the shell. The hatchlings, which are only 2 inches in size, remain hidden in the sand for several days. It takes them a few days to make their way to the surface. Then they all emerge together at night and instinctively head for the water. This is a dangerous time as gulls and crabs like to feed on them. Juvenile green sea turtles spend 3 – 5 years in the open ocean before they settle into shallow-water life. Due to their predatory environment, only 1% of hatchlings make it to sexual maturity (estimated to be 20 – 50 years old).
Green sea turtles are shown as endangered on the list of threatened species. The scale goes from extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, to least concern. As an endangered species, collecting, harming, or killing turtles is illegal. Threats to our beloved green sea turtles include pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. But, the main danger is from shrimp trawlers fishing off the coast. They inadvertently capture turtles in their nets.
The local community is very committed to conservation to protect the turtle population and other marine species. Hundreds of local residents volunteer to help on many projects, including CEA's turtle patrols and conservation programs.
The two main local dive centers in Akumal Beach support many programs, including coral reef monitoring and restoration. For the last 30 years, they have worked closely with local conservation programs providing diving equipment, boats, and personnel to help conduct annual surveys and reef restoration.
Other local businesses, such as the Akumal Beach and Wellness Resort and Lol-Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar, are sponsors of the CEA's turtle camp each year. The program
· protects and tags nesting females
· locates and marks nests with stakes and GPS coordinates
· obtains scientific data, and
· helps to minimize predators from the nests
Each year they helped secure over 1000 turtle nests.
Businesses supporting green sea turtle habitat conservation: Lol-Ha Restaurant & Akumal Dive Center.
Suppose you swim with turtles in Akumal or elsewhere. How can you determine if it's a green sea turtle or another species? Characteristics of green sea turtles are:
While there are many pressures on green sea turtles, local turtle conservation methods in Akumal are working. In 5 years alone, the total number of sea turtle nests found increased by over 60% between 2014 and 2019. The number of green sea turtle nests found in the area in 2019 was 787; in 2020, it was over 1,000. At an average of 100 eggs per nest, that's 78,000 hatchling green sea turtles born last year on the beaches of Akumal. There's a reason the name Akumal means "Place of Turtles" in the Maya language!
The temperature of turtle eggs determines their sex. Warm nesting sites above 30C favor females, while nests below 30C produce males! The egg's position in the nest also determines the sex of the baby turtle. Eggs in the center are warmer than those on the outside, so those eggs tend to hatch as females.
If green sea turtles are underwater for several minutes before they need more oxygen, how do they sleep? While only staying underwater for a few minutes when active, turtles can rest or sleep underwater for several hours. During the night, when sleeping, green sea turtles wedge themselves under rocks or ledges. This is to protect them from predators. Often the green turtles return to the exact location, night after night, to sleep.
Did you know that green sea turtles once co-existed with dinosaurs? Green sea turtles began to evolve in the Cretaceous period 100 million years ago. And the prehistoric turtles co-existed with dinosaurs until the dinos went extinct 65 million years ago.
The mating season in Akumal for green sea turtles is May – September. Both males and females return to the same coastal area and beach where they were born to mate. Males return each year, while females mate only every two to four years. After mating in the water, the female moves above the beach's high tide line. She digs a hole up to 2 feet deep, using her hind flippers, and lays the eggs. After depositing 80-200 eggs, the female green turtle covers the eggs with sand and returns to the ocean. Digging the hole, laying the eggs, and covering them up takes about 90 minutes. And the female will do this 3 to 5 times in a mating season. But only every two to four years. Can't say I blame her – seems like a lot of effort.
If you adore turtles, as we do, then Akumal is the place to go. With hundreds of green sea turtles hanging out, mating, and grazing on the seagrasses, it's the capital city for sea turtles. Hopefully, the 21 fun facts about our adorable green sea turtles have whetted your appetite to come and check them out. Responsibly, of course. If you are interested in snorkeling in Akumal, you'll want to read our insider's Guide to Akumal Snorkeling. It's a must-read before you go. And make sure you book a tour to swim with turtles in Akumal – the best place in Mexico to swim with turtles.
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Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. Here we explore the diversity of Mexico's best tourism destination to highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc., etc. Incuding Akumal Beach, the best place to swim with turtles. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.
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