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The Gap Year Blog

Top 5 Places to See Sea Turtles

18 Jun 2018 10:55 AM

Photo Credit: Jeroen Looyé | flickr

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Sea turtles are one of the most ancient species of marine life and scientists estimate they have been around for about 110 million years. Swimming with turtles is on many bucket lists but with their habitat being destroyed and their eco systems are being decimated by overfishing 6 out of 7 species are now endangered. This makes seeing them in the wild ever more challenging but luckily here are 5 protected areas to see these elusive animals: 

Playa Grande - Costa Rica

This gorgeous beach is one of the best places in the world to see the enormous leatherback turtles. Leatherbacks are the largest species of turtles weighing anywhere up to 700 kilos. However, you won’t only see a gargantuan turtle dragging its way up the beach; you are also likely to find tiny turtle babies not unlike the ones featured on Blue Planet II (although this beach is not near a road so none of them are squished). Playa Grande is the second largest nesting site for leatherback turtles in the world. In order to see turtles here you have to book a tour with a guide so as not to disrupt the nesting habits of the turtles and to ensure that none of the eggs are damaged. The majority of the tours are after sundown and it is not likely to be an evening you will forget. Frontier also runs a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica, so if you want to get up close and personal click on the link below. 


Photo Credit: Frontier

Lanieka Beach - Hawaii 

This Hawaiian paradise is home to one of the rarest species of turtles; the Hawaiian green sea turtle or ‘honu’. At Lanieka Beach these elusive turtles are actually relatively easy to spot both on land basking in the sun, or in the sea where snorkelers and scuba divers alike can see them drifting around snacking on seaweed. Volunteers or ‘Honu Guardians’ take shifts throughout the day watching the sea turtles. Their tasks involve recording how many turtles they see, if the same ones keep coming back, and making sure members of the pubic don’t get too close. The constant monitoring of turtles contributes towards ongoing research about their habits, their population patterns, and most importantly how to continue their survival.  These volunteers are also a wealth of knowledge about the turtles, and are happy to help you find them. On top of that, they’re usually very friendly and make the whole experience a delight. 

Photo Credit: sheraca | flickr

Akumal Bay - Mexico

Akumal in the Mayan language literally translated to ‘Land of Turtles’, a clear sign that their might possibly be turtles around. When approaching the beach don’t be fooled by the people asking for ‘admission price’ on the beach. Akumal Bay is free to use  and if you bring your own snorkelling gear you’re on your way to floating around with the best animal with a shell. Sorry snails. The beach itself is a white sanded gem and if you get their early you’re likely to avoid the majority of the tourist crowd and have the majority of the beach to yourself. Early morning is also the best time for visibility, so it cannot be recommended highly enough. In 2016 Akumal Bay was made a protected marine area, so be sure to watch out for areas that are off-limits; the importance of these rehabilitation zones cannot be overstated as they are vital to turtles continued presence in Akumal Bay.

Photo Credit: Peyri Herrera | flickr

Gili Islands - Indonesia 

These tiny tropical islands are particularly good for divers, with dive sites that vary wildly in difficulty so is well suited to beginners and PADI-regulars alike. However if you’re not ready to be 10 meters underwater, it is snorkeler friendly too, with various ‘turtle spots’ around the islands. Local people are also taking strong steps to preserving sea turtles; particularly on the island of Gili Trawangan. Locals are committed to ending the practice of eating turtle eggs and so take the eggs to incubators in protected hatcheries until they are ready. When they’ve hatched and are deemed strong enough to survive, their walk into the ocean is protected and any predatory bird attempting to eat the hatchlings will find themselves in a fight with a very protective Indonesian. Visiting these sanctuaries is easy and ethical, so you can see the tiny turtle’s safe in the knowledge you’re helping others to see them too.


Photo Credit: Nikki McLeod | flickr

Apo Island - Philippines

Not to be confused with Apo Reef, Apo is a volcanic island a few kilometres off the shores of Negros Oriental. The island itself is tiny, with electricity only working for 3 hours out of the day. Apo Island is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and a local called Thad claims it is the most ecologically diverse site ever. Period. If you’re really lucky (and suitably far from shore) you can even see whale sharks feeding on the tiny krill that surround the island. It is home to countless species of fish, algae and other marine life, all of which draws turtles in their hundreds. Here you are likely to see 5 or 6 turtles in a 45 minute dive and the abundance of food means you see them in their most relaxed state. The turtles are fairly used to humans and some are very curious so expect to get as close to turtles as imaginable. However it is important to remember to be a responsible traveller and touching the turtles comes with a 5,000 pesos fine. 

Photo Credit: Jun V Lao | Wikimedia Commons

Seeing turtles in the wild is a truly magical experience and their increasing rarity can make it difficult. To increase the likelihood of spotting turtles check before you go that the season is right and that the sea will be calm enough for you to swim. Most importantly, respect the turtles and enjoy!

By Marnie Woodmeade- Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!