Florida is known for a variety of species of turtles, and Key Largo is proud to host many of these beautiful creatures! Of the 7 species worldwide, the Keys is home to 5 of them. Key Largo sea turtles include the Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, and Leatherback.
Along the Atlantic seaboard, from March to October, female turtles come to shore at night to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Female turtles typically return to the same nesting area they hatched from. Sea turtle nests average about 100 eggs and approximately two months later, turtle hatchlings emerge from their shells. Male turtles emerge from nests that were kept cooler, while females emerge from nests that were warmer.
Turtle nests are not unusual to find when walking on Florida beaches or combing for shells. Many turtle nests will have been marked by nest surveyors in an effort to protect the tiny inhabitants incubating inside. Oftentimes they will be obviously staked by local survey volunteers to ensure they are not damaged by beach-goers.
The hawksbill sea turtle is aptly names for its hawk-like beak. The shell on this species is what is responsible for the color description “tortoise shell” due to the pretty overlapping scales. You can generally see adult hawksbill approximately 30-36 inches, about 100-200 lbs
The most common species along the Florida coast, the loggerhead is named for its monstrous head. They can grow to approximately 40 inches, and weigh 400 lbs! Currently threatened, they are still the most common species you are likely to encounter diving and snorkeling.
This is the only herbivore of our 5 local species. This species is fairly established elsewhere in the world, but in the Florida Keys it has endangered status because it was once heavily harvested for its meat. They range 36 – 43 inches and can weigh from 300 – 350 pounds
This critically endangered species of sea turtle is the smallest (80-100 lbs) and a shell size of typically 30 inches or less. They are considered the rarest of the turtles! You should count yourself lucky if you come across one on a dive or snorkel.
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest and has a large migratory range. Considered endangered, this massive turtle can weigh close to 2,000 pounds and reach or exceed 6 feet in length. Hence its name, the shell on the leatherback lacks scales and is covered instead by thick ridged skin.