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Sea turtle diving in ocean

The Best Places in the World to See Sea Turtles

Hannah Douch

By Hannah Douch

Last updated: 17th May 2024

Shrouded in mystery and scattered around oceans, sea turtles are some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. These ancient animals evolved alongside dinosaurs over 100 million years ago, and while their sizes and populations have since shrunk, they’re still astonishing. Many even grow to be over six feet in length! 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the ocean or discover the best locations for sea turtle watching, you’ve come to the right place. Check out our guide below to find out the best places to see sea turtles and how you can make a positive impact on your trip.

How many types of sea turtles are there?

baby sea turtle trio on beach with one outstretching its fin

There are seven different species of sea turtles around the world. While multiple types of turtles can be found in one location at a time, some breeds are unique to a particular country or ocean. The seven species and their endangered statuses are:

  • Flatback sea turtles: Data deficient
  • Loggerhead sea turtles: Vulnerable 
  • Olive Ridley sea turtles: Vulnerable 
  • Leatherback sea turtles: Vulnerable, critically endangered in subparts
  • Green sea turtles: Endangered 
  • Hawksbill sea turtles: Critically endangered
  • Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles: Critically endangered 

Why are sea turtles endangered?

Cluster of sea turtles on rock bed in shallow water

Many of the threats facing sea turtles are created and driven by human behaviour. From global warming skewing the sex ratio, to nest disruption, incidental captures (known as bycatch) and illegal poaching, numerous daily adversities contribute to the sea turtles’ endangered statuses. 

Fortunately, there have been great efforts around the world to conserve these species and their natural habitats. Conservation charities are most concerned with the uphill battle of illegal poaching, overharvesting and bycatch. 

But real change starts on a small scale. Everything from preserving nests and not touching sea turtles to choosing environmentally conscious tours can make a significant difference to sea turtles’ wellbeing. Whether you’re interested in volunteering on a conservation site or snorkelling on a trip, treating the turtles with respect and gentleness is the easiest way to make a positive impact as a traveller.

How many sea turtles are left?

Two baby turtles being scooped up in cups

It is estimated that there are almost 6.5 million sea turtles in the world, with numbers varying greatly between species. While the Olive Ridley species has the most abundant population at close to one million sea turtles, the Kemp’s Ridley is critically endangered with only around 8,000 left in the wild. 

Some species, such as the leatherback sea turtles, are critically endangered in specific corners of the world but their overall status is listed as vulnerable. 

How long do sea turtles live?

sea turtle raising its head and floating in bright blue ocean

It’s difficult to document the exact lifespan of sea turtles, but they’re believed to be quite similar to humans. It can take decades for sea turtles to mature, while their reproductive cycle lasts at least 10 years. 

Green sea turtles are considered the most reliable form of data with an estimated lifespan of 70 years. There’s also some evidence to suggest that flatback sea turtles live up to 50, while leatherback sea turtles can live for up to 90 years. The world’s oldest sea turtle is thought to be 400 years old!

Where to see Sea Turtles

Australia

Stretches of rainforests and white sand by bright blue sea with Great Barrier Reef below

Turtle species in Australia: 6/7 (including the native Flatback turtles!) 

Australia is one of the rare destinations around the world to have such a recorded variety of sea turtles. Six out of seven sea turtle species frequent Australia’s waters, particularly in the Great Barrier Reef - the world’s largest coral reef system. While Flatback turtles travel to the north of Australia (around Darwin) for nesting, it’s quite common to find them swimming around and feeding here. So for your best chance to see multiple species at once, a scuba diving trip from Cairns is your best bet!

Best time of year to see sea turtles in Australia: November to February

The best time to see and swim with sea turtles in Australia is in hatching season. Sea turtles prefer the summer heat as it means the sand is warm enough to keep their eggs incubated. 

The Philippines

Green sea turtle in aqua water of Moalboal

Turtle species in The Philippines: 5/7

The Philippines is located at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the world’s most biodiverse coral reef system which features 75% of coral species. This makes it an excellent habitat for various sea creatures, including five out of seven sea turtle species. Moalboal is especially known for how easy it is to spot sea turtles, even while snorkelling in shallow water. The best time to see sea turtles here is either from 4-5pm, or at 9am - just a few hours after Moalboal’s famous Sardine Run.

Best time of year to see sea turtles in turtles in The Philippines: November to February

The best time to see sea turtles in The Philippines is during hatching season, which takes place when the weather is warmest for the turtles to lay their eggs in nests.

Sri Lanka

sea turtle being cleaned with water by volunteers

Turtle species in Sri Lanka: 5/7

If you want to see baby sea turtles hatch or help these endangered creatures, Sri Lanka is where to go. With sanctuaries set up along the island coast, Sri Lanka offers incredible opportunities to anyone looking to volunteer abroad. 

While the Green Sea Turtle is the most common species found in Sri Lanka, you have a good chance of spotting four other kinds!

Best time of year to see sea turtles in turtles in Sri Lanka: February to April

It’s entirely up to you. Are you interested in helping protect the nests and look after the mother sea turtles? November is the best time to go. If you want to see baby sea turtles as they start to hatch, then February to April is when these tiny creatures break out of their shells. 

Madagascar

Sail boat heading into the sunset on calm waters

Turtle species in Madagascar: 5/7

A tropical paradise for all things wildlife, it comes as no surprise that Madagascar is one of the best places to see sea turtles. Five species can be found scattered throughout the island, with the most well-known being the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

What sets Hawksbill Sea Turtles apart is their sharper beak, almond-like eyes and spotty hard shell that picks up algae! These sea creatures play a significant role in the ecosystem as they help reefs by eating the sponges that try to overtake the sea bed space. 

Best time of year to see sea turtles in turtles in Madagascar: October to March

While it’s possible to help sea turtles all year round, October to March is the best time to see sea turtles as it is during nesting season. 

How you can help save the sea turtles 

one baby sea turtle on the sand crawling into the golden ocean

Sea turtles play a crucial role in maintaining the world’s ocean ecosystems. If sea turtles became extinct, the entire food chain system would change. There would be increased reef erosion underwater, and without sea turtles laying eggs on the beach, the earth would lose out on key nutrients. 

While we hope that sea turtles’ numbers will one day be restored, there are ways that you can help - even if it doesn't feel like much. From recycling to considering the positive impact of your trip and planned activities abroad, this alone can make a huge difference. Try to avoid buying souvenirs where sea turtles have been poached or harmed in the process. And if you are swimming with sea turtles, it’s best not to touch them and to let them move around in peace.

If you feel like going the extra mile, you could always sign yourself up for a volunteer trip to a turtle conservation site.

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