Water Turtles

Sea Turtles

Two species of sea turtle breed in Lebanon and swim off the coast. Both are highly endangered, internationally, and within the East Mediterranean just a relic population remains. Never the less they are still with us and breed on southern beaches where development has not been as heavy as along other areas of the national coast line, such as Tyre Coast Nature Reserve and at the Palm Islands Nature Reserve.

Although the centre of conservation efforts, both species are highly vulnerable. They still face the threats of dynamite fishing, ensnarement in nets, loss of breeding habitat and death from pollution. Many turtles die each year, for example, by eating plastic bags that look like their jelly fish prey.

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Female Green Turtles lay up to 240 eggs in excavated nests on sandy beaches above the high tide line, hauling themselves up the beaches every third year to lay. After hatching under the sand the baby turtles (like the one left) dig themselves out and make a dash for the sea where they will spend the rest of their lives eating mostly sea grasses and algae and marine invertebrates.

Listed on the IUCN red list as Endangered (see Conservation).

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Young Loggerheads will spend time in the shallows but as an adult they typically inhabit the open ocean and are capable of diving very deep feeding on jelly fish and fish.

Listed on the IUCN red list as Endangered (see Conservation).

Freshwater Turtles also called Terrapins

Although you would be very fortunate to see a sea turtle in Lebanon – if you know where to go you are almost guaranteed to see a freshwater turtle. There is just one species; the Caspian or Stripe Necked Turtle (Mauremys caspica) but it is quite common in the right habitats.

Living up to its common name – the stripes help identify this species. However as it is the only freshwater species in Lebanon – it is not hard to work out what it is. If you ever see a similar looking turtle with a red spot behind the eye Lebanese wildlife is in trouble as it will be an “alien” called the Red-eared Terrapin (Trechemys scripta). Don’t worry it doesn’t come from Mars! An “alien” means it is an introduced species (in this case from released pets originally from the U.S.A.). In Europe where they are thriving, having been abandoned by their owners, they are killing many local species. Never release exotic pets into the wild!

Strong swimmers, the Stripe Necked Turtle live in lakes, rivers, ditches and wetlands. Although it is quite tolerant of all sorts of water bodies it needs some permanent water through the year to survive. Hence the best places to see them are in the wetlands of the Bekaa or muddy rivers. It is omnivorous eating live and dead animals such as fish, mollusks, insects and amphibians but also plant material. They spend long periods hauled out of the water, often in groups, but disturb them and plop! They are under the water for several minutes. Best time to see them is in the autumn when permanent water bodies shrink and many congregate at favored sites.

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