Identifying Maldives Sea Turtles

Identifying Maldives Sea Turtles

During a stay in the Maldives it is highly likely that you will spot a few sea turtles whilst swimming, diving or snorkelling in the crystal clear waters around your resort island. Gracefully gliding up to the surface for a breath of air before gliding back to the underwater realm – totally mesmerising to watch. They are often so close that you can get a really good look at their features and this will help to identify which species of sea turtle you’ve been lucky enough to see.

Although five of the seven species of sea turtles in the world can be found in the waters around the Maldives, there are two species that are seen far more frequently than the others – the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). How can you tell which one you’ve seen? The turtles’ upper shell is called the carapace – the scales are called scutes and these can give important identification information along with the shape of the turtles jaw and number of claws on its front flippers.

Identification Key for Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles:


Maldives Hawksbill Sea Turtle


Maldives Green Sea Turtle


Narrow and pointed with upper jaw overhanging the lower

Rounded, lower jaw is serated

Side scutes

4 – they have sharp edges and they overlap

4 – not sharp or overlapping





1 on each front flipper

2 on each front flipper


If you spot a turtle that doesn’t fall into either of these, you may have spotted one of the rarer turtles here in the Maldives: a Loggerhead, Leatherback or Olive Ridley. Once you’ve become an expert at distinguishing between the two most commonly sighted turtles, try to identify whether it is male or female. Fully developed male sea turtles have larger claws and a larger, longer tail than females – you will know a big tail when you see one!

The sea turtles here in the Maldives are not shy, infact they usually go about their business totally ignoring your presence or even becoming a little inquisitive – Hawksbills have even been known to try and nibble camera lenses and divers BCDs! Please respect the turtles, give them space, allow them to decide how close an encounter they want and, above all, NEVER EVER touch, chase or try to ride them. This is extremely threatening to the turtles and would make them wary of humans, making future sightings more unlikely.

So, until your flight out of paradise on your Trans Maldivian Airways homeward bound transfer, we wish you many happy hours of turtle spotting!