Most island destinations in the world attract travellers for their serene nature and underwater beauty. When it comes to the Maldives, there is a plethora of fish, corals, plants, mammals and reptiles that one can find in the ocean. Turtles in Maldives are not to be missed if you are taking up snorkelling or diving in this island paradise.
Not everyone is lucky enough to sight these protected creatures but there are Maldives tour packages that take you on diving cruises with the most seasoned experts, increasing your chances of finding a turtle. Whether you are a reptile fan or not, a turtle watching trip is sure to enchant you!
What are Turtles?
Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that have a hard shell made of cartilage or bone. Often confused with tortoises, turtles differ from them in that they are able to swim and dwell in water as well as on land. Tortoises, on the other hand, cannot swim and are restricted to land.
The hard shell of a turtle protects them from any attacks. The shell itself is in two parts – upper and lower which also protects the turtle’s belly. Both of these parts are connected to each other through bony bridges around the sides of the turtle.
These sea reptiles are able to retract their heads and fully hide inside their shell. The retraction mechanism also helps them catch prey through a suction technique. However, a turtle can never come out of its shell completely as its ribs and backbone are attached to the lower and upper shells.
Sea turtles drink the salty water of the seas and oceans but have the capacity to remove excess salt through “salty tears”. Even though these animals can comfortably live in water, they breathe only the oxygen of the air. While submerged, the nostrils and eyes of turtles remain above the water surface, unless they dive down. Turtles can either be herbivorous or carnivorous, with beaks to catch food and jaws to tear into them and chew them.
Turtle Species Found in The Maldives
Away from most of the inhabited islands in The Maldives, turtles are best spotted along coastlines, high seas, uninhabited islands and areas where there is an abundance of food. The Maldives considers turtles to be a protected species and there are five species that tourists can come across during their dives.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles in Maldives
The hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered species in the world. About a thousand individuals have been recorded in The Maldives, mostly through their nests on uninhabited isles. This species mostly forages in coral reef crevices, thanks to its narrow head and a jaw that is shaped like a beak. Their food comprises sponges, crabs, anemones, fish eggs, soft corals, seaweed, shrimp, urchins and jellyfish.
Hawksbill sea turtles nest both at night and during the day time. One interesting feature of this turtle is that it changes the colour of its shell according to the temperature of the water. They measure up to 90 cm in length and weigh up to 70 kg. Hawksbill turtles mate once in a couple of years and lay about 160 eggs in a nest. Incubation takes a couple of months before a hatchling is born.
Green Sea Turtles in Maldives
The largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the world, green turtles can reach lengths of up to 120 cm, weighing up to 160 kg. Their diet depends on their age – the juveniles prefer to eat jellyfish and small crustaceans while the adults stick to vegetarian food such as red and green algae and seagrass. This endangered species is able to migrate very long distances across oceans and seas, covering up to 40 km a day.
The long tail of the green sea turtle is one of its identifiers, along with a greenish tinge to the colour of their shell. Nesting is carried out every couple of years to 4 years when the females return to their nesting beaches. They are able to lay 70 to 125 eggs between one to six clutches. Hatchlings appear after 50 to 70 days.
Olive Ridley Turtles in Maldives
The Olive Ridley is a vulnerable species of turtle which does not normally hatch in The Maldives. However, these are seen migrating from other parts of the Indian Ocean to the Maldives between January and April. Olive Ridleys are omnivorous reptiles that feed on fish, algae, fish eggs, lobsters, shrimp, crabs, molluscs, tunicates and jellyfish.
Olive Ridley turtles mature at the age of 15 years and lay up to 110 eggs in mass nesting activities or solitary nesting or a mix of both. These are one of the smallest sea turtles in the world, weighing up to 45 kg.
Leatherback Turtles in Maldives
The largest existing reptile in the world, the leatherback turtle grows up to 2 metres in length and weighs up to 900 kg. This vulnerable species is named after its unique soft shell which is a mix of tiny bone plates and rubbery skin which is very thick and tough. Leatherbacks do not have claws on their flippers. Teardrop shaped, these turtles live up to 45 years, maturing between 8 and 15 years of age.
Leatherback turtles can only eat soft-bodied animals but have spines in their food pipe to shred whatever they eat. They usually eat jellyfish and sometimes octopuses, squids and salps which are marine invertebrates with gelatinous bodies. Leatherbacks are deep-divers, with an ability to go down up to 1,200 metres underwater!
Loggerhead Turtles in Maldives
Loggerhead turtles are critically endangered and are very rarely spotted in The Maldives. Named after their unusually large heads, this turtle species coexists with other organisms such as barnacles encrusted on its upper shell and head. They live to be up to 70 years old and reach maturity at 30 years. Nesting happens once in 3 or 4 years, laying 40 to 190 eggs in each clutch.
Loggerhead turtles can hold their breath for up to 7 hours while resting at the bottom of the sea, which they do with one eye open to be quickly able to respond to emergencies. They feed on mussels, crabs, jellyfish, squid, fish eggs, insects, sponges, starfish, corals, clams, sea urchins and other crustaceans.
Turtle Watching in Maldives
Before you rush to book activities in Maldives, leave some room for turtle watching. This tropical archipelago is home to 5 of the 7 species of turtles which are present on Earth. If you are wondering what to do in Maldives with family, the kids will absolutely love turtle watching. There are also opportunities to release hatchlings into the ocean – a special activity organized by many resorts in The Maldives.
The Best Spots for Turtle Watching Maldives
Many resorts and hotels in The Maldives offer turtle watching tours which involve diving into the water with them or watching them nest or seeing some babies hatch out of the eggs that have completed incubation. Depending on the species you are after, you will have great sightings both close to Malé – the capital city of Maldives and in other atolls away from the city.
Some of the finest places for finding turtles in Maldives are Lhaviyani Atoll – one of the best atolls for spotting the green sea turtle, Baa Atoll – for Olive Ridleys, and North Malé Atoll and South Ari Atoll – notable for the hawksbill turtle. Maldives day tours to Kuredu Caves are very popular as most turtles use the nooks to rest, mate or feed.
The Best Seasons for Turtle Watching in Maldives
Maldives’ weather makes it ideal to sight turtles round the year. However, the best months for turtle nesting are generally May to June when the females lay their eggs and bury them on secluded beach shores.
If it is hatching that you are interested in, July and August are great months when you can watch the hatchlings come out of their eggshells and make their way into the ocean. Certain Maldives vacation packages let you experience the joy of releasing newly hatched sea turtles from the hatcheries into the sea.
Swimming & Snorkelling with Turtles in The Maldives
Swimming with turtles is one of the most memorable activities to do in Maldives. Before you can jump in the warm waters to snorkel or dive with turtles, you will be ferried to certain diving spots in speedboats or dhonis – traditional Maldivian wooden boats.
Turtle tours are available at most private island resorts, local islands and even from Malé. Follow the guide who will show you where to observe the turtle underwater. Remember not to touch the turtle or irritate or intimidate it. Keep a few feet away from any turtle even when you are taking pictures or shooting videos with them.
It is not only turtles in Maldives that should excite you when holidaying here. This Asian archipelago has pristine lagoons and secluded sandbanks for honeymooners and luxurious water villas for those who like to be spoiled on their vacation. Book your next trip with Samudra Maldives to relish the best moments that this country offers!