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Green Sea TurtleGreen Sea Turtles in North Carolina


Chelonia mydas

STATUS: Threatened

DESCRIPTION: The green sea turtle grows to a maximum size of about 4 feet and a weight of 44O pounds. It has a heart-shaped shell, small head, and single-clawed flippers. Color is variable. Hatchlings generally have a black carapace, white plastron, and white margins on the shell and limbs. The adult carapace is smooth, keelless, and light to dark brown with dark mottling; the plastron is whitish to light yellow. Adult heads are light brown with yellow markings. Identifying characteristics include four costal plates, none of which borders the nuchal shield, no jagged marginals and only one pair of prefontals between the eyes. Adult green turtles feed largely on marine algae and grasses in shallow water areas. They may also consume small mollusks, sponges, crustaceans, and jellyfish.

RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: With an estimated population of no more than 6OO,OOO adults worldwide, the green turtle is found in tropical and temperate seas and oceans. The North American distribution is from Massachusetts to Mexico, and from British Columbia to Baja California. In the Southeast Region, green turtles also occur in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Continental United States nesting is limited to 3OO to 1,000 nests annually on Florida's east coast from Volusia County to Dade County. Occasional nesting also occurs in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: The nesting season varies with the locality. For Florida it is roughly June through September. Nesting occurs nocturnally at 2-, 3-, or 4-year intervals. A female may lay as a many as seven clutches in a season at 9- to 13-day intervals. Clutch size varies from 75 to 2OO eggs with incubation requiring 48 to 7O days, depending on incubation temperatures. Hatchlings generally emerge at night. Survival to maturity is very low. Age at maturity is thought to be 2O to 5O years.

HABITAT: Green turtles are generally found in fairly shallow waters (except when migrating) inside reefs, bays, and inlets. The turtles are attracted to lagoons and shoals with an abundance of marine grass and algae. Open beaches with a sloping platform and minimal disturbance are required for nesting. Green turtles apparently have a strong nesting site fidelity and often make long distance migrations between feeding grounds and nesting beaches. Hatchlings have been observed to seek refuge and food in sargassum clumps.

Species Distribution from known occurrences. Species may occur in similar habitats in other counties.Green counties indicate observed within 20 years. Yellow counties indicate an obscure data reference to the species in the county. Red counties indicate observed more than 20 years ago.

Species distribution of the Green Sea Turtle in NCFace of Green Sea Turtle

Species Location Map based on information provided by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program.
For additional information regarding this Web page, contact David Rabon, in Raleigh, NC, at david_rabon@fws.gov

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