“We were diving Key Largo, Molasses Reef, myself and 2 new students when we came upon a young Loggerhead Turtle. I hastened to coax my students along so we could take a look at him before he swam away. As it turned out, he decided we were interesting enough and spent about 10 minutes swimming with us… a wonderful dance for my students and I!” – Sea Dwellers’ Instructor Rob
How many times we’ve experienced the happy face of a diver after an encounter with a Sea Turtle on a Key Largo dive! These special encounters prove the uncertainty of a Turtle’s behavior; at times skittish, simply swimming away quickly when glancing a diver… and sometimes the opposite; content to simply swim right on up to a scuba diver and “check things out”. The latter is one of the great joys of scuba diving Key Largo…being able to swim with and interact with one of these beautiful, interesting creatures on a coral reef!
Male sea turtles actually spend their entire lives in the ocean. Adult females do return to beaches on land to lay their eggs, and they often migrate long distances between the areas where they feed and where they nest. There are seven species of marine turtles, five of which are found in the waters of the Florida Keys. These air-breathing reptiles are well adapted to life in the marine world, with streamlined bodies and large flippers.
A close relative of the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle is named for their narrow, pointed beak-like nose. One way to tell the difference between the Green and the Hawksbill is the Hawksbill has 2 pairs of plates between the eyes, the Green only one.
The Hawksbill has a very distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on their shells which can be quite beautiful. Unfortunately, these colored and patterned shells make them highly-valuable and commonly sold as “tortoiseshell” in markets, according to the WWF.
Hawksbills are found mostly throughout the world’s tropical oceans, commonly on coral reefs. They feed mainly on sponges, using their pointed beaks to extract them from corals crevices on reefs. They also eat sea anemones and jellyfish. This is probably the most common turtle for divers diving Key largo waters.
The most abundant of all the marine turtle species in U.S. waters, the Loggerhead is also one of the easiest to identify due to…yes, because of it’s huge head. Often seen “sleeping” while nestled among the coral, they are also known to be one of the most comfortable when interacting with scuba divers.
But persistent population declines due to pollution, shrimp trawling, and development in their nesting areas, among other factors, have kept this wide-ranging sea creature on the threatened species list since 1978.
The Florida Keys were known for it’s large population of Green Turtles decades ago before they were hunted by humans to near extinction worldwide. A very close relative of the Hawksbill, Greens are considered very good to eat. I hate to admit it, but I remember as a little boy eating turtle sandwiches with my parents at Manny & Isa’s Restaurant in Islamorada, our favorite spot back then. Of course at the time we had no idea that they were being fished into near-extinction. But I know now, and I wouldn’t eat sea turtle anywhere!
Sea turtles are the living representatives of a group of reptiles that has existed on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years. They are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems and help maintain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds. – WWF
I remember very well running the Sea Dweller III out to the reef one day many years ago, and coming upon a huge, black object on the surface of the water. Coming up beside it, I realized that it was moving…and it was like nothing I had ever seen before! With huge dark ridges and about 5 – 6 feet long, I realized that it was a Leatherback Turtle. A truly amazing site!
While rare, they are found in Florida Keys waters, (I’ve never had a diver on the boat say they saw one underwater on a dive). The Leatherback is the largest of the turtles and the largest reptile living today. They can grow to be over 6 feet and can weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. They are the only turtle that lacks a hard, bony shell.
We hope to continue to Dive Key Largo waters with Sea Turtles, as they are one of the reasons we dive in the first place! While human activity has helped to endangered them, we can also act to save them! With awareness and an appreciation of the fragility of these magnificent creatures, we can all contribute to their preservation! Now let’s go scuba diving and find some more turtles…
Thanks to all!
Rob & Your Sea Dwellers Staff