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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrata > Class Reptilia
Sea turtles
Family Cheloniidae
updated Oct 2016
Where seen? Adult sea turtles are sometimes sighted near our Southern Islands. While there have been several incidents of baby sea turtles hatching on our shores, including East Coast Park!

Features: Marine turtles are air-breathing reptiles that live out at sea. They only return to land to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. Superbly adapated to life at sea, the sea turtles limbs are modified into oar-like flippers. As adults many migrate, some for very long distances. Studies show that sea turtles found in Singapore waters may nest on shores in our neighbouring countries, and possibly visa versa.

Globally, there are 7 sea turtle species belonging to two families. The two species most commonly encountered in Singapore are the Green turtle and the Hawksbill turtle.

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata): To about 90cm. Its jaws are distinctly hook-shaped and are used to crunch crabs and shells. The edge of the shell towards the back is serrated and not smooth. It eats mainly sponges but also other animals. It is found near reefs. This is the sea turtle that is harvested for its shell, used in 'tortoise shell' products.

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas): To about 1.5m or more. Jaws are not hooked shaped and the edge of shell is smooth. Their common name arose from the colour of the cartilage and fat deposits around their internal organs. Adults eat mainly or only seagrasses and thus found near coastal areas with seagrass meadows. Juveniles are omnivorous and eat seaweeds, crabs and squid.

Stranded baby sea turtles: In recent years, there were incidents of sea turtle hatchlings going in the 'wrong' direction when they emerged from the sandy shores of East Coast Park. Why do they do this? Baby sea turtles' natural instinct is to head towards the sea. In nature, starlight and moonlight on the water would guide them in the right direction. However, in urbanised shores like ours, light from our parks, streets and other human activities disorientate them. As a result, they head in the wrong direction and usually come to a sad end.

What to do with sea turtles stranded on the beach? If you spot any sea turtles on our shores, call the Police or NParks (Helpline number: 1800 4717300, or any other emergency number that you can see posted on signage in the park). They will then activate the Standard Operating Procedure to rescue them.

Status and threats: Our sea turtles are listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore. These species are also globally 'Critically Endangered'. Globally, sea turtles are threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, and as adults for their meat and shells. Sea turtles also drown when trapped in fishing lines and nets, and die a slow and painful death when they accidentally eat plastic bags and other marine debris. Their nesting beaches are also lost to reclamation or affected by coastal development, light and chemical pollution and other human activities nearby.


Kusu Island, Sep 13
Photo shared by Leong Chin Rick on facebook.


Young sea turtle found resting
in the man-made lagoon.

Sisters Island, Jul 10
Photo shared by Toh Chay Hoon on her blog.


Baby sea turtle seen in the man-made lagoon.
They were eventually released into the sea.

Kusu Island, Sep 09


Hawksbill turtle
(serrated edge of shell at the back).

Sea turtle seen attempting to lay eggs.
East Coast Park, Jul 13
Photo shared by David Tan on facebook.

Pulau Semakau, Nov 07

Photo shared by Teo Siyang on his blog.


East Coast Park, May 06
Photos shared by Sivasothi on his blog.

Rescued hawksbill turtle hatchlings.

Searching for lost Hawksbill hatchlings.

Sea turtles recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
*Lim, Kelvin K. P. & Jeffrey K. Y. Low, 1998. A Guide to the Common Marine Fishes of Singapore.
in red are those listed among the threatened animals of Singapore from Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.

  Family Cheloniidae
  Caretta caretta (Loggerhead sea turtle)
Chelonia mydas (Green sea turtle) (CR: Critically Endangered)
Eretmochelys imbricata (Hawksbill turtle) (CR: Critically Endangered)

  Family Dermochelyidae
  Dermochelys coriacea (Leatherback turtle)

Links

Past sea turtle sightings in Singapore

References

  • Lim, Kelvin K. P. & Francis L K Lim, 1992. A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Singapore Singapore Science Centre. 160 pp.
  • Cox, Merel J., Peter Paul van Dijk, Jarujin Nabhitabhata and Kumthorn Thirakhupt. 1998. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore New Holland.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
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