New Zealand's 4 turtle species
When you think of turtles, you might think of the warm, tropical waters of Fiji or Rarotonga. However, you don’t need to fly several hours away to see these wonderful creatures, as there are in fact four different turtle species that have been spotted in waters around New Zealand!
The Loggerhead turtle
Loggerhead turtles are pretty common all over the world, basing themselves around coastal regions not too far from the equator. This is because they can live in relatively cool waters (down to as low as a chilly 10 degrees C!), and due to their widespread nature, researchers aren’t currently able to estimate worldwide population numbers.
These are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles, and adult males can grow to almost a metre in size and up to roughly 110 kilos! They prefer food such as crabs and jellyfish, but will occasionally snack on seaweed.
In New Zealand, you’d only really see one around the top of the North Island, but it’s not impossible for them to be seen in the far south, either.
It’s easy to assume that the Green turtle is named for its shell colour, but the name actually comes from the green hues of its fat and cartilage! They’re also special because they are the only herbivorous turtles, and they’re one of the largest in the sea.
This species prefers subtropical and tropical waters, and as they migrate throughout the seasons, they can often be seen around New Zealand’s far north such as by the Poor Knights Islands and in Rangaunu Harbour.
The Olive Ridley turtle
Named for their olive shells, these turtles are the smallest out of all the sea turtles, as they only grow up to roughly 65 centimetres and weigh up to 45 kilos.
They prefer warm waters, and usually only travel alone, coming together just once each year when the females return to their hatching places to nest.
Due to New Zealand’s colder waters, the Olive Ridley turtles are extraordinarily rare here. There have only been five recorded sightings in history, and it’s believed that those turtles may have been lost or sick.
The Hawksbill turtle
This critically endangered species are named for their pointed beaks, and stand out with distinctive patterned shells that can unfortunately end up being sold in markets as ‘tortoiseshells’.
They’re a relatively rare sighting in New Zealand, and would usually only be seen in the warmer waters around the upper North Island. These beautiful turtles help maintain the health of coral reefs and sea grass beds as they mainly feed off reef sponges, so are an important part of marine ecosystems around the world.
If you’re ever lucky enough to spot one of these turtles when in New Zealand, be sure to let the Department of Conservation know so they can track their progress.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist