Turtles in Bocas del Toro

Turtles in Bocas del Toro

Four species of marine turtles are known to nest in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. These are the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

The hawksbill has always been common here and Bocas del Toro region has been one of the more important nesting grounds for this species in the western hemisphere. 40 years ago hawksbill turtles were still abundant in the waters of the archipelago, but today there are many fewer. Green turtles, which feed on offshore sea grass fields, were also much more common then than they are today.

Turtle eggs have been over-harvested and turtles themselves killed both for their meat and shell. No real estimate exists of the maximum size of turtle population that existed in the past, so logging the current nesting population sizes has been the first step in developing conservation plans.

Adult marine turtles, both male and female, are migrate far from their feeding areas to reproduce. Mating can takes place during migration or in coastal waters near the nesting beach. Female turtles lay their eggs during the night along sandy beaches near deep water.The females pull themselves up the beach sand and lay their eggs above the high water mark. The female will dig a nest by scraping out a hole with her rear fins. The hole is quite deep, around 45-80 cm deep and they lay their eggs in the hole. The eggs are then covered with sand in an attempt to disguise the nest. The eggs are hatched by the sun's heat incubating them over time. Interestingly the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the baby turtles ( above 29C and the offspring are female, less than 29C and they are males).

The baby turtles all hatch from a nest at roughly the same time, and make a run down the beach to the sea. They are vulnerable to the sun's heat and any animals looking for a tasty snack like birds and crabs. On reaching the sea they try to get to deep water, which gives them a greater survival chance


We believe that marine turtles live to 75 years of age or more, and that they do not come to sexual maturity until they are about 30 years old. It therefore takes many years of conservation to re-build a decimated turtle population.

Within the province of Bocas del Toro there many suitable turtle habitats - lagoons, mangroves, estuaries, coral reefs, ocean coastal waters, and sandy beaches.

Leatherback Turtle(Dermochelys coriacea)
This turtle can be seem between March and June along the beaches of Bluff and Bastimentos. This is the largest of the marine turtles. A mature female averages 150 cm in length and weighs around one half a ton. Females lay eggs about 9 times during their 4 month gestation period, with 10 days roughly been nest making. Each nest averages 82 fertile eggs and 30 non-fertile ones. The eggs hatch after 50-70 days The Leatherback eats plankton and jellyfish.

The Hawksbill Turtle(Eretmochelys imbricata)
During the mating season between the months of May and September mating can be observes on isolated beaches. The beaches of Bastimentos and Zapatilla Cay are the beaches the Hawksbill turtles use for nesting. Between September and March you can often spot the baby turtles swimming among the underwater plants

The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
This turtle is a herbivore and can be found among the sea grass pastures. The Green Turtle has a round, flat snout and serrated jaw which allow it to feed on these grasses. Its chestnut colored shell is between between 90-110 cm in length. Adults weigh less than 230 kg.

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Named because of its large wide head, the Loggerhead has a chestnut colored shell, which is often encrusted with shellfish. A strong jawbone enables it to break open and eat conch, clams, and crabs, and it will eat jellyfish and seaweed if needs must. Adults reach up to 120 cm and weigh up to 200 kg. It is not known which beaches in the Bocas del Toro it uses for nesting sites.

Bocas del Toro Ecosystems