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Sea Turtle Symbolism: Legends, Myths, and Modern Significance

Sea turtle symbolism is a very interesting, unique subject since there are so many different meanings around the world. They symbolize different things in some cultures and religions.

In many ‘Native American’ cultures across ‘North America’, sea turtles embody ‘long life’ and ‘spiritual journey’, reflecting a ‘strong connection’ with the ‘natural world’.

Turtles represent so many things to so many people. In many cultures around the world, the sea turtle is considered to be a charismatic megafauna.

This ‘charismatic megafauna’ plays an ‘important role’ in ‘feng shui’, symbolizing ‘good fortune’ and ‘personal growth’.

Charismatic megafauna is a large animal with symbolic value. The turtle has come to be used as a symbol of environmentalism and the conservation of marine habitats all around the world.

Sea turtles are also symbols of many states. For instance, the leatherback sea turtle is the official state marine reptile of California.

Universally sea turtles are also symbols of longevity, peace, and wisdom. The world turtle, also known as the cosmic turtle, is often considered a sea turtle.

This chelonian carries and supports the world in Chinese mythology, Hindu mythology, and mythos of several indigenous people of the Americas such as the Lenape and Iroquois.

What Do Sea Turtles Represent?

Sea Turtle swimming with fish at the bottom of the ocean
Sea Turtle swimming with fish at the bottom of the ocean.

Sea turtles are central to the spiritualism of many cultures across the world. Sea turtles represent the passing on of culture and messages from one generation to the next among many cultures of the indigenous people of North, Central, and South America.

Sea turtles also represent patience, wisdom, and longevity. The sea turtle is a resilient animal that carries immense strength. As such it isn’t surprising that these chelonians are considered symbols of endurance and strength.

Because sea turtles can be submerged underwater for long periods and at the same time can survive out of the water which is their natural habitat, they are considered resilient and creatures of endurance. This endurance can help us survive and thrive even in hard times.

Sea turtles also represent peace. They encompass both patience and endurance.

This is an important lesson as we are bound to feel frustrated and even angry in life but we have to be able to have patience and peace of mind as we make the important decisions in our lives. Not just in our personal and family lives but also in our professional lives.

Although sea turtle species such as the leatherback have existed since the time of the dinosaurs, they have remained the same.

Sea Turtle Symbolism in Hawaiian Culture

Maori Sea Turtle outline
Maori Sea Turtle outline for turtle tattoo.

Sea turtles are known as “honu” to the Hawaiian people. In Hawaiian culture, particularly referencing the ‘Hawaiian green sea turtle’, these gentle giants symbolize longevity, endurance, protection, and a ‘spiritual meaning’ of ‘good fortune’, holding a ‘special place’ in the hearts of the locals.

This is for good reason. A Hawaiian myth talks about Kauila. This turtle goddess transforms into a human girl in order to protect the children who play on the shores of Punalu’u. Not only does Kauila protect human children but she also provides fresh water for the people of Punalu’u.

The Punaluu Black Sand Beach is located on the Kau coast. Here you can find sea turtles swimming. The famous black sand beach attracts tourists from all over the world who come to swim and snorkel with turtles.

Sea Turtle Symbolism in Hindu Culture 

Hindu-styled art of sea turtle
Hindu-styled art of sea turtle.

The turtle Kurma is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Kurma means turtle and is the second avatar of Lord Vishu.

Also, the cosmic turtle Akupāra, which is synonymous with Kurma, carries Mother Earth and its oceans on his back. Kurma symbolizes steadiness and firmness.

Sea Turtle Symbolism in Japanese Culture

Japanese-style sea turtle pattern
Japanese-style sea turtle pattern.

In Japanese mythology, the turtle symbolizes longevity and felicity. The chelonian is considered a symbol of longevity because of the long lifespans of turtles.

The god of merchant sailors is Konpira Gongen, this god is symbolized by the turtle. The black turtle is considered to be a mythical beast and protects KUto from danger.

The black turtle also protects Kyoto from the north and here is called Genbu. Genbu is closely linked with yin energy. Genbu is also a warrior deity.

The other mythical beasts are the white tiger (Byak-ko) which protects Kyoto from the west, the Azure Dragon (Sei-ryu) which protects Kyoto from the east, and the Vermilion Bird (Su-zaku) which protects Kyoto from the south.

Sea Turtle Symbolism in Chinese Mythology

Chinese-style watercolor painting of a turtle
Chinese-style watercolor painting of a turtle.

The Ao is a sea turtle that lived in the South China Sea when the world was formed. The legs of Ao are used to support the sky and were cut off by Nüwa, who created humans.

According to other myths, Ao resides in the Bohai Sea and carries Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou.

Sea Turtle Symbolism in Native American Culture

Tribal sea turtle pattern
Tribal sea turtle pattern.

Sea turtles are positive spirits and play important roles. In the creation myths of East Coast tribes such as the Lenape and Haudenosaunee, the earth is placed on the back of a giant sea turtle. Because of this, the earth is sometimes referred to as Turtle Island.

According to Iroquois oral tradition, the earth was formed from the thought of a ruler who lived on an island. Atahensic, the sky woman fell to earth.

At this time, the earth was submerged in water. Only the sea turtle known as Seri was able to dive to the ocean floor which was used to create the earth on the back of the turtle.

In another variant of the myth, the muskrat collected the soil which was used to create land on the turtle’s back after many other animals failed to dive to the bottom of the waters. In this myth, the Nanabozho is the creator hero.

According to Native American culture, the sea turtle symbolizes earth and life.

Furthermore, the ‘sea turtle totem’ is revered in various ‘Native American traditions’, representing a guide through the ‘spiritual practices’ and ‘inner strength’ of human beings.

Sea Turtles As State Symbols In The United States

King Neptune statue with sea turtle at VA beach
King Neptune statue with sea turtle at VA beach.

Sea turtles are considered to be state reptiles in a number of states in the United States. The leatherback sea turtle is the official state marine reptile of California and was designated as such in 2012.

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has been the state sea turtle of Texas since 2013. The loggerhead sea turtle has been the state reptile of South Carolina since 1988.

In 2008, Florida designated the loggerhead as the state saltwater reptile. As mentioned earlier the endangered/threatened nature of sea turtles make them an ideal symbol for states as the animal is used to advocate for the protection and conservation of the ocean.

Infographic about Sea turtle symbolism
Infographic about Sea turtle symbolism

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to see or cross paths with a sea turtle?

In many cultures including Hawaiian culture, seeing sea turtles is a symbol of wisdom and good luck.

The Hawaiian honu is a symbol of good luck. Honu which means turtle is a symbol of peace, good luck, safety, spiritual energy, and longevity.

If you cross paths with a sea turtle, do well not to harass it. It is best to observe from a distance. If you can, do not disturb this majestic creature.

What does the appearance of a sea turtle in your dream mean?

Sea turtles are a symbol of life, good luck, peace, protection, and safety. As such seeing one in your dream is a positive sign.

It is a sign that you should be more communicative with others as someone might be misunderstood in a present or near future situation. This is also because the sea turtle is an element of water.

What does the sea turtle symbolize?

Sea turtles generally symbolize life and the earth. The long lifespan of these turtles means that they are considered to be bearers of longevity.

The resilient nature of adult turtles means that they are seen as symbols of protection and safety. The slow maturity and growth of sea turtles mean that they signify steadfastness, perseverance, deliberation, and growth.

What is the world turtle?

The world turtle is also known as the cosmic turtle. This turtle is known to carry the world or the earth on its back.

In Hindu mythology, this turtle is known as Akupāra. This turtle is synonymous with Kurma and carries the earth and its oceans on his back. Kurma is the second Avatara of Lord Vishnu.

Among East Coast Native American tribes such as the Lenape and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the earth is placed on the back of a giant sea turtle.


Sea turtles symbolize life and earth in most cultures around the world. This is because of the longevity of these chelonians.

They also symbolize patience, wisdom, and longevity. Because of their immense strength, they are also considered to be creatures of endurance and strength.

While they are marine reptiles, they can also survive out of water for an extended period of time such as when nesting females come on land to nest. This ability has also earned the turtle a symbol of endurance and perseverance.

The Turtle Island is what many East Coast Native American tribes refer to when talking about the earth. This is because the earth is considered to be on the back of a large sea turtle.

Sea turtle symbolisms exist in many cultures. Universally, the sea turtle is a protector and symbolizes life.

Their symbolism extends over a ‘very long time’, traversing ‘different cultures’ and capturing the ‘ancient wisdom of the earth’, serving as a reminder of our own ‘personal growth’ and ‘spiritual journey’ at a ‘steady pace’.

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