Skip to Content

Turtles in Puerto Rico (4 Species)

The four turtles in Puerto Rico include three marine turtles and a slider which is a freshwater turtle. The marine turtles are endangered and there are conservation efforts underway to protect wild populations.

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1917, and residents born there are United States citizens. This small island is located in the Caribbean sea and rests about 1,000 miles southeast of Florida.

In Puerto Rico, there is only one freshwater turtle, and there are 3 Sea turtles that visit and nest on the tropical island’s beaches. Each year, tourists flock to the small island to observe nesting Sea turtles. Sea turtles are all endangered and protected, thus it’s unlawful to touch, handle, harm, buy, or sell them.

It’s still an amazing sight to behold when these aquatic creatures crawl on the beaches, dig a nest in the sand, and return to the sea. It’s equally, or more exciting to see tiny babies emerge from the sandy nest to scurry to the salty waves.

Here are the 4 turtles that live in and visit the island of Puerto Rico. 

Freshwater Turtles in Puerto Rico

1. Puerto Rican Slider

Puerto Rican Slider (Trachemys stejnegeri stejnegeri) resting on a log over water by Benny Diaz
Puerto Rican Slider (Trachemys stejnegeri stejnegeri) resting on a log over water by Benny Diaz
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Emydidae
  • Scientific Name: Trachemys stejnegeri stejnegeri
  • Other Names: Hispaniola Slider
  • Average Adult Size: 6 to 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 to 40 years
  • Price: $90 to $300
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened 

The Puerto Rican Slider is the only turtle, native or otherwise on the island of Puerto Rico. It is one of 2 other subspecies of Central Antillean Sliders found around the Caribbean islands. 

It is not only found in Puerto Rico, but also in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, and Haiti. This turtle prefers shallow waters of swamps, rivers, and streams with muddy, soft bottoms and great amounts of vegetation.

Occasionally they can be found in brackish environments, but they don’t stay in these semi-salty waters full time.

These Sliders don’t get very large, but they can have a big attitude. In the wild, they may hiss or try to bite when handled. As pets, they may start off with that big-bad attitude, but they will soon lose the bravado and become your best friend.

Females are a little larger than males, but they only max out around 7 or 8 inches in straight carapace length. 

Puerto Rican Sliders are mostly grey or olive colored both on the carapace (upper shell) and the exposed skin and scales. The upper shell has lighter and darker swirls and patterns, while the plastron (bottom shell) is cream colored and has dark grey and whitish concentric patterns, making them a very attractive turtle.

Their skin is darker colored with pale white stripes and bright red to dark red patches behind the golden-yellow-green eyes. They have a slight ridge along the middle carapace and rounded serrations at the back of the shell. These patterns and colors fade and darken as the turtle ages.

These turtles are omnivorous, but their diet alters as they grow older. Hatchlings and juveniles feed mostly on insects, worms, and other meat sources, while adults transition to a mostly herbivorous diet.

Marine Turtles in Puerto Rico

A handful of Sea turtle species come to nest on the tropical shores of Puerto Rico in the summer. These include the Hawksbill Sea turtle, the giant Leatherback, and the Green Sea turtle.

Let’s have a look at these majestic Sea turtles. When we’re done here, I’m thinking of planning a trip to this amazing U.S. territory!

2. Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Close up of Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming on rocky sea floor of ocean
Close up of Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming on rocky sea floor of ocean
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
  • Other Names: Hawksbill
  • Average Adult Size: 30 – 36 inches
  • Life Span: 50 – 60 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Critically endangered

The Hawksbill Sea turtle acquires its common name from its beak-like mouth which looks like a hawk’s bill. They are medium-sized turtles with a breathtaking carapace. It’s marbled with amber, yellow, white, cream, black, and many other colors. 

This gorgeous shell unfortunately makes them a target for poachers. These shells are used to make things like guitar picks, glasses frames, hair accessories (combs, brushes, clips), and other decorative items. 

They are critically endangered because of this practice. They also get caught in trawling nets and meet their doom when they get run over by ships and boats. Another big problem is feral pigs.

The pigs are able to sniff out Hawksbill nests, then they will dig them up and devour the eggs. Fences are built in an attempt to stop the pigs, and so far have helped improve hatchling survival rates. 

Hawksbill turtles are found in most tropical and subtropical waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They often cruise reefs, lagoons, and shoals where they feed on sea sponges. This is their main diet item, but they will also consume fish and some crustaceans.

This diet can make their meat semi-toxic to people who consume them. Most times they are hunted for their shells only. 

3. Green Sea Turtle

Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming over rocks on sea floor with fish in background
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming over rocks on sea floor with fish in background
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Cheloniidae
  • Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas
  • Other Names: Green Sea Turtle
  • Average Adult Size: 3 – 4 feet
  • Life Span: 50 – 70 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

Green Sea turtles are large marine reptiles that have a somewhat heart-shaped shell that’s brown, green, and black. Their scales are typically dark colored and surrounded by white or yellowish skin. Their underside is all white, cream, or yellowish. 

Why are they called the Green Sea turtle? Back when people hunted Sea turtles for food, the Green Sea turtle had green colored fat, and so the name stuck. 

The small island of Culebra—just due east of Puerto Rico—is considered to be a critical habitat for the Green Sea turtle. They gather in the tropical reefs to feed and nest on the beaches of Isla Culebra.

Green Sea turtles feed mostly on algae and sea grasses. This diet is what makes their fat green. Juveniles and hatchlings are thought to eat small fish, krill, and other little invertebrates. Young turtles need to grow fast and the best way to get big quickly is to consume lots of protein.

Sea turtles, including the Green Sea turtle, get caught in fishing nets and hook and line fishing. Coastal development is another cause of their decline. Turtles, both babies and adults, rely on the light of the moon to navigate to the water, and when the beaches are full of artificial lights and noise they won’t nest, or they can get confused and disoriented.

4. Leatherback Sea Turtle

Baby Leatherback Sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) being held in hand
  • Experience level: N/A, Illegal to own any sea turtle
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
  • Other Names: Atlantic Leatherback, Leatherback
  • Average Adult Size: 4 – 8 ft
  • Life Span: 30 – 50 years
  • Average Price Range: N/A
  • Conservation Status:  Endangered

Leatherback Sea turtles are the largest turtles in the world. They can reach carapace lengths of 9 feet, and possibly larger. Their giant flippers stretch even longer than the shell length. On a 7-foot long Leatherback, the flippers can measure 9 feet from tip to tip.

Giant Leatherback turtles don’t have a hard shell, instead, they have a leathery shell with bony plates underneath. They also have 7 ridges running from front to back. These turtles are dark grey to black with light spots all over them. 

These turtles traverse the world’s oceans and can even be found in cold, nearly arctic waters. Their giant size, insulating layer of fat, and circulatory system allow them to withstand temperatures that would otherwise incapacitate other turtles. 

Yearly, Leatherback Sea turtles make a migration from feeding grounds to mating and nesting sites of over 10,000 miles, the most of any other turtle on the globe. These record-breaking turtles can also dive deeper than any other turtle. They can descend to 4,000 feet deep. 

These migrating giants feed mostly on jellyfish. They follow huge pods of lion’s mane jellyfish and feed on them, and in fact, help to keep their numbers in check. These jellyfish average 2 to 4 feet in diameter, but can grow over 7 feet wide! 

Their tentacles can stretch dozens of feet long, and they eat anything that gets caught and paralyzed in those tentacles. Leatherback turtles are essential in keeping their populations from overrunning the ocean.

Leatherback Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean, but they will visit Puerto Rico and Isla Culebra to come ashore and nest. The most popular beaches where they nest include Playa Brava and Playa Resaca.


Are there sea turtles in Puerto Rico?

There are three species of sea turtles that visit the beaches and surrounding waters of Puerto Rico. These include the Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green Sea turtles, all of which are known to nest on Puerto Rico’s shores.

All species of Sea turtles are considered endangered and are protected by federal laws.

Can I own a turtle in Puerto Rico?

Yes, you can own pet turtles in Puerto Rico. Many people own the island’s only native turtle, the Puerto Rican Slider. You can’t own endangered species, and it may be difficult to get certain species into the island, so do your research before trying to import species if you live in Puerto Rico.

Can I own a sea turtle in Puerto Rico?

It is prohibited to keep any type of sea turtle. Besides, these turtles would require a massive, very specific type of environment, and most people wouldn’t be able to afford the set up Sea turtles would need to survive.

You’d have to have an aquarium that literally holds metric tonnes of salt water, you’d need a huge beach area and specialized food. Some only feed on crabs, whelks, and conchs, while others feed nearly exclusively on sponges or jellyfish.

Only the richest of people could realistically afford to keep a Sea turtle, but even then, there are international, and federal laws that prohibit the capture and possession of these endangered animals. They belong in the wild, not in a tank.

What is the most dangerous turtle in Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico only has one native turtle, the Puerto Rican Slider. It’s a small turtle that may bite, but these bites aren’t life threatening. Most times they don’t break the skin, but if a bite does, you can get it treated easily.

The biggest threat surrounding turtles and reptiles is contracting salmonella. Reptiles often carry this bacteria in their digestive tract. It’s contracted when they poop and step in it, or it gets on their skin or shells.

People can contract salmonella after handling reptiles and turtles, but this is easily prevented by washing your hands directly after handling any reptile. If soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer is the next best thing.

Can you swim with turtles in Puerto Rico?

The small island of Culebra, just east of Puerto Rico, is a popular tourist destination for people wanting to see Sea turtles in the wild. Here people are given the chance to swim in the tropical, protected waters and often see wild sea turtles in the waters.

You can see Hawksbills and Green Sea turtles fairly often here because these waters are important feeding and nesting grounds. Leatherback Sea turtles are rare because they stay in deep, open oceans, but they do come to the beaches to lay their eggs in the summer.

Wrapping up

Puerto Rico is a tropical island located in the Caribbean sea and is an important stopping point for marine turtles. There is also one freshwater turtle that lives on the island, the Puerto Rican Slider. 

During the late spring months into September 3 species of Sea, turtles come to feed and lay their eggs in Puerto Rico. These turtles include the Hawksbill, the Green, and the Leatherback Sea turtle. 

If seeing Sea turtles is a bucket list item, then you might want to plan a trip to this tropical island. They nest here and swim in the waters. Just be sure to respect them, keep your distance, and get plenty of pictures of these majestic gentle giants.

If you enjoyed this list, please leave us a comment. We love to hear from our readers. Who knows, maybe you will connect with other fellow turtle enthusiasts.

Other nearby states

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Sharing is caring!