Things To Know About the Turtles of the Red Sea

The Red Sea is home to abundant marine life, including some of the world’s most unique and rare creatures, such as turtles. There are seven marine turtle species living in our oceans and five of them (Green, Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, and Leatherback) can be found in the Red Sea region. To learn how the Red Sea turtles look like and live, read this article so you can identify them on your next trip!

Green Turtle

One of the most commonly seen turtles of the Red Sea is the green turtle. They belong to the Cheloniidae family and are one of the world’s largest hard-shelled turtle species; green turtles grow up to 80-120 cm (2.6-3.2 ft) and adults weigh around 100-170 kg (220-370 pounds).

The prefrontal scales of these turtles are one pair rather than two like those of other turtles. Using their strong, paddle-like flippers, they quickly cruise along the water; when necessary, they can speed up to 35km/h (22 mph)!

Green turtle head closeup

The shell of the green turtles is seldom green despite their name. The blend colors of their teardrop-shaped shell range from brown, black, grey, and olive. Several brown and yellow markings can be seen on the head of this turtle species that is found not only in the Red Sea but worldwide in subtropical waters and temperate regions too from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean but also in the Mediterranean Sea.

Green turtles are herbivores, relying on seagrass beds as their feeding area. Therefore, they can be mostly spotted in shallow bays along the Red Sea coast; the most popular area to see green sea turtles is Marsa Alam where they can be found in sandy bays (such as Abu Dabbab or Marsa Mubarak) feeding on seagrass. While snorkeling in Marsa Alam, encountering this species is almost guaranteed!

Green Turtle feeding on seagrass

They have a serrated jaw that helps them chew seagrasses and algae, their primary diet. Juveniles, however, are omnivores. In the first few years of their life, they float at the sea and feed on plankton. When older, they move to coastal areas where seagrass thrives.

Green sea turtles can live up to 50-70 years and reach maturity around 25-35 years old when they return to the beach where they were born to mate and lay their eggs. They nest at intervals of about every 2-3 years.

This turtle species is classified as endangered. Threats to them include habitat loss due to climate change and coastal development, hunting, bycatching, and harvesting their eggs.

Hawksbill Turtle

The hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered species and belongs to the Cheloniidae family. Hawksbill turtles’ bodies are flat with a protective carapace. They typically grow up to 60-100 cm (2-3.2 ft)and weigh around 50-80 kg (110-176 pounds).

These marine turtles of the Red Sea have a narrow pointed beak hence the name Hawksbill. The beak allows them to extract sponges from crevices, their primary diet. They also feed on jellyfish, sea urchins, barnacles, and sea grasses. Their flipper-like limbs each have a pair of claws; this is their other distinctive feature.

Hawksbill Turtle eating coral

As reefs are their feeding grounds, they can often be seen around them munching on corals. They are often spotted in the Red Sea’s main tourist areas around Sharm el Sheikh snorkeling sites but also near Hurghada, especially in Makadi Bay.

An interesting fact about this Red Sea turtle species is that some animals and sponges that hawksbill turtles eat are toxic. They absorb the toxins through their body fats without becoming sick, but their meat is poisonous to humans, so they are not hunted for their meat.

Hawksbill turtle over coral reef

Human impact is still the main threat to hawksbill turtles. Typically, they are hunted for their shells to create jewelry and trinkets. Climate change and coastal developments are another factors that are responsible for their decreasing population; as coral reefs are being destroyed, this species suffer habitat loss.

Olive Ridley Turtle

Olive Ridley turtles are known to be found in the Red Sea waters; however, sightings have become rare lately. The last nesting in the region was reported in 2006 from Eritrea.

The species is one of the smallest of the Red Sea turtles and of all marine turtles: their usual adult size is between 50-70 cm (1.6-2.3 ft) and 35-50 kg (77-110 pounds). Their pale green (olive-colored) carapaces make them easy to identify.

Olive Ridley hatchling

The population of Olive Ridleys is decreasing dramatically due to bycatching, hunting for meat, egg harvesting and entanglement in ghost nets. However, it is still the most abundant sea turtle species in the world and listed as vulnerable only.

This is possible mainly due to the facts that females nest 1-3 times per year in nesting aggregation. This phenomenon is called arribadas and it means that they lay their eggs in large groups which results in more hatchlings surviving.

Olive ridleys are omnivores. They feed on plants and animals like crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Occasionally, they will eat algae and seaweed.

Loggerhead Turtle

The loggerhead turtle’s name is a result of its massive head. This species has strong jaw muscles that allow them to eat hard-shelled prey like conch, clams, mussels, and sea urchins.

The shell of a loggerhead turtle is heart-shaped, without ridges, in reddish-brown color. Their typical size is about 80-100 cm (2.6-3.3 ft), their weight is about 90-150 kg (200-330 pounds).

Loggerhead Marine Turtle

Females lay three-four clutches of eggs per season, they become quiescent and do not lay eggs again for two-four years. A loggerhead’s maturity occurs around 30-35 years of age. The species could live up to 50 years or even more.

Loggerhead turtles are rare sight in the Egyptian Red Sea, they usually stay in the Gulf of Aden area. However, you have a good chance to encounter this species in the Mediterranean Sea, especially around Zakynthos in Greece, but sometimes in Italy and Malta too.

Leatherback Turtle

Leatherback turtles are the largest on the earth; they are 135-170 cm (4.5 to 5.5 ft) long and have an average weight of 900kg/2000 pounds. Unlike other marine turtles, leatherbacks do not have a hard shell but leathery skin in black color with light spots and seven ridges.

Since they lack a hard shell, they grow faster than other marine turtles and mature earlier, typically at the age of 10-20 years when they start laying eggs every 2 to 4 years.

Leatherback sea turtle
Leatherback turtle on the beach – Image source: Wikimedia

Leatherback turtles are well adapted to migrating lifestyles thanks to their solid front flippers and teardrop-shaped bodies. In fact, they are the most migratory turtle species in the world; they travel thousands of kilometers, dive to depths over one kilometer, and survive cold temperatures better than most other reptiles

The primary diet of leatherback turtles is soft-bodied animals like jellyfish and squids. After biting the prey, they secure it in their mouths and throats with notable spikes to prevent it from escaping. They also feed on seaweed and algae.

Leatherback turtles are endangered, with a global population decline of about 40 percent over the past decades. Their main threats include human activity (including hunting them for their meat and collecting their eggs for consumption) and habitat loss. Water pollution also threatens turtles; as a plastic bag floating in the sea can look like a jellyfish, they often mistakenly consume it.

These turtles are seen only occasionally in the Red Sea, mainly when there is jellyfish bloom, but no nesting has been recorded yet so you are less likely to encounter one.


Red Sea turtles have an essential role in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem, especially in the Red Sea coral reefs and seagrass beds. They provide nutrients to nesting beaches and also contribute significantly to the tourism industry’s economy. Out of the world’s seven turtle species, five can be found in the Red Sea region, however, only two of them, Green and Hawksbills are regularly spotted. When encountering turtles while snorkeling or diving, it is essential to observe them from a safe distance without chasing, disturbing, or touching them.

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Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!