What Does Sea Turtle Eat?

Each sea turtle species has a specific diet depending on its habitat and available food sources, with different-shaped jaws to efficiently consume their favorite dishes.

Green sea turtles feature finely serrated beaks to scrape algae off rocks and feed on seagrasses; hatchlings of these turtles are omnivorous. Hawksbills feature bird-like beaks for accessing cracks in coral reefs in order to access sponges more quickly.


Carnivorous sea turtles are predominantly bottom dwellers that eat marine plants, crustaceans, mollusks, fish and jellyfish as food sources. In addition, they consume sea cucumbers, algae and marine sponges. Carnivorous sea turtle species most frequently considered are the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and flatback (Chelonia mydas). With adult shells ranging between 58-78 cm (23-23 inches), the loggerhead sea turtle has one of the largest heads among sea turtles, feeding on a wide range of aquatic organisms including whelks, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and squids – using its large head to break through hard shells of these prey items! Flatback turtles also feed carnivorously; though rarely on vegetation. Instead they prefer shallow coastal marine environments where soft corals, bryozoans clams and sea sponges are consumed.

Herbivorous sea turtles play a critical role in maintaining coral reef health by eating parasitic algae that could otherwise overgrow and kill them. Furthermore, these turtles help balance out ecosystems as their grazing habits help control populations of larger predatory marine species like fish and seabirds.

Green and hawksbill species of seabirds are herbivores as adults; the latter has an adjustable beak which allows it to access marine plants and sponges from cracks in reefs. Hatchlings of both species tend to be omnivorous at first before shifting towards carnivory as they reach adulthood.

Both the Hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles share an affinity for meat. The former uses its bird-like beak to access cracks in coral reefs to access sea sponges while the latter tends to prefer crabs, squids and shrimp as its primary prey items.

Though sea turtles don’t usually ingest plastic waste directly, they sometimes mistake floating plastic as jellyfish and other forms of prey that could potentially block their digestive systems and result in starvation.


Adult sea turtles tend to transition towards herbivorous diets as adults. Green sea turtles are among the many that switch their food source, preferring seagrasses and algae as primary foodstuffs. Their serrated jaws serve to scrape algae off rocks while their special culture of bacteria in their stomach helps break down plant cells to release their nutrients for absorption.

Green sea turtle hatchlings are known for being omnivorous eaters and may feed on any variety of foods they find around coral reefs – from algae and seagrasses, fish eggs, crustaceans or jellyfish! As adults they transition into herbivorous diets that allow for maximum survival.

Hawksbill sea turtles, for instance, are sometimes referred to as sponge eaters due to their diet of coral reef-dwelling sponges found on coral reefs; their bird-like beaks allow them to reach into cracks in the reef to locate these prey items. Leatherback sea turtles on the other hand have earned themselves the name gelatinous eaters due to consuming jellyfishes or soft-bodied invertebrates that float through the water column as food sources.

Sea turtle digestive systems are specifically designed to work slowly, which allows for proper microbial breakdown to extract all of the essential nutrients from their food source. This is especially essential in herbivorous species; otherwise all essential vitamins could pass right through without being properly absorbed into their systems.


Diets of sea turtle species vary significantly, from herbivorous (such as loggerheads and greens) to omnivorous diets; others such as hawksbills and leatherbacks being more specific such as jellyfish or sponge consumption. Each turtle species helps contribute to marine habitat diversity by contributing its unique diet in balance with ocean ecosystems.

Sea turtles all share a characteristic of floating on the surface of water; however, their jaws and other features vary among species. Their shapes reflect how they prey upon various forms of marine invertebrates while their mouths have evolved specifically for what they eat.

Some species of sea turtles are strictly carnivorous or herbivorous throughout their entire lives, while many other 350+ sea turtles feed on an assortment of food types as adults, occasionally switching between one type and the next as they age.

Hatchlings of most species tend to be omnivorous until reaching maturity. Green sea turtles, for instance, tend to be herbivorous as adults while hatchlings eat seagrasses and algae; on the other hand, loggerheads and hawksbills typically begin as carnivores but gradually transition into being omnivores.

Due to their wide-ranging diets, sea turtles play an essential role in coastal and ocean ecosystems. Their contribution includes moving nutrients around and maintaining balance between predators and prey populations – while providing valuable protection and food sources for other species, such as fish and birds.

The Leatherback sea turtle’s scissor-like jaw makes them well suited to digesting soft, gelatinous food sources like jellyfish and tunicates. Their lower jaw features two pointed cusps which enable them to puncture prey skin before killing it before entering their stomachs; additionally they have papillae in their throat and mouth that aid in moving food down their digestive tracts – they have even been known to feast upon crabs, conchs, whelks and horseshoe crabs among others!


Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the wild feed exclusively on sponges; this marine animal is the only one genetically and physiologically equipped to consume these oceanic foods. To reach into reef cracks for their food source, their beaks feature sharp points like those used by birds; additionally they have special stomachs to digest any harmful compounds present within sponges.

Sponges differ from many marine organisms in that they can reproduce asexually, through budding. A small piece can break off and grow into its own new sponge – this process is known as budding. Additionally, sponges may develop self-defenses to ward off predators such as producing chemicals which make their taste disagreeable to marine animals – this trait may increase survival and fitness when facing predators by decreasing vulnerability of being eaten by them.

Diet for rescued turtles will depend on its species, condition, age and size. Our 130 lb subadult Loggerhead sea turtle Patti was only able to start eating on her own after four months at our facility due to pneumonia, boat hit, severe eye bacterial infection, lockjaw and severe pain from pneumonia treatment.

Loggerhead sharks typically feed on bottom dwelling invertebrates like whelks, mollusks and horseshoe crabs as adults; in the open ocean however they will consume floating items such as jellyfish and plastic debris as food sources.

Green sea turtles in the Caribbean typically feed on Thalassia testudinum (turtle grass), as well as algae and hard-shelled prey using their powerful jaws.

Kemp’s ridleys are omnivorous birds; as hatchlings they feed on seaweed and small creatures such as snails and crabs. As adults they become carnivorous feeders feeding on crustaceans, fish, molluscs, and jellies.

Diets for rescued turtles should focus on preparing them to return to the wild, depending on their condition and age. Visually impaired turtles require specially designed feeding tools that assist them in finding food. A general guideline suggests offering meats, fruit, veggies and grains.

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