El Salvador is a country located in Central America. This country is bordered by Guatemala, Honduras, and the pacific ocean.
The country is home to a vast array of species and boasts vibrant and biodiverse wildlife. There are five turtles in El Salvador.
Four marine turtle species make the Salvadoran coast home and these include the olive ridley, the black turtle, the leatherback, and the hawksbill which is considered critically endangered. The Salvadoran coast is considered an important nesting habitat for the critically endangered hawksbill in the Eastern Pacific.
One freshwater turtle can also be found in El Salvador and this is the Pacific Coast giant musk turtle.
Table of Contents
- Freshwater Turtles in El Salvador
- Sea Turtles in El Salvador
Freshwater Turtles in El Salvador
There is a single freshwater turtle endemic to El Salvador and that is the Pacific Coast Giant musk turtle.
1. Pacific Coast Giant Musk Turtle
- Family: Kinosternidae
- Scientific Name: Staurotypus salvinii
- Common Names: Mexican giant musk turtle, Chiapas giant musk turtle
- Adult Length: 15 inches (38 cm)
- IUCN Status: Near Threatened
The Pacific Coast giant musk turtle is the only freshwater turtle endemic to El Salvador. As you may have already guessed from the name, the giant musk turtle is huge.
While most musk turtles are just a few inches in length, this turtle can reach lengths of 15 inches in length. This turtle is huge.
The Pacific Coast giant musk turtle is also called the Mexican giant musk turtle and the Chiapas giant musk turtle. This turtle can be found in El Salvador, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
The species has also made its way to the United States through the pet trade. The species have been observed in the wild in Florida where it is believed to have been introduced to the local ecosystem through pet release.
Pacific Coast giant musk turtle, like other musk turtles, prefers slow-following waterbodies with soft muddy bottoms and an abundance of aquatic vegetation. The Pacific Coast giant musk turtle is primarily carnivorous just like other musk turtles.
This turtle is known to feed on amphibians, smaller turtles, fish, aquatic invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans, and even carrion. The Pacific Coast giant musk turtle is a large muck turtle as already established.
The carapace of this turtle is generally dark in coloration and is usually green, black, or brown. The plastron is yellow.
On the carapace are three ridges that run the carapace’s length. Gravid females lay clutches with 6 to 10 eggs which hatch after 80 to 210 days.
Unlike most turtles, sex is determined by Pacific Coast giant musk turtle/XY sex-determination instead of the temperature-dependent sex determination that occurs with most turtles.
Sea Turtles in El Salvador
Four turtles can be found in the waters and shores of El Salvador and these include the hawksbill, leatherback, black turtle, and olive ridley. The hawksbill is considered to be a significantly important species.
The main nesting beach in Jiquilisco Bay also known as Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique. This area is designated as a UNESCO Biosphere and is also regarded as a Ramsar wetland. All four turtles are known to nest here.
There are many other nesting habitats within El Salvador such as Los Cóbanos, and Punta Amapala.
2. Hawksbill Sea Turtle
- Family: Cheloniidae
- Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata
- Common Name: HawksbillTurtle
- Length: 25 to 45 in (63 to 114 cm)
- Mass: 78.63 to 279.74 lb (36 to 127 kg)
- Presence in El Salvador: Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique, Los Cóbanos, and Punta Amapala
- IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
El Salvador’s beaches are home to the highest nesting abundance of hawksbills in the Eastern Pacific and as such, makes El Salvador the most important nesting habitat of hawksbills in the Eastern Pacific. Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique Biosphere Reserve (Bahía) accounts for about 60% of all nesting activities in El Salvador.
Two other important nesting beaches for the hawksbill in El Salvador include Los Cóbanos Reef Marine Protected Area (Los Cóbanos) and Punta Amapala (Gulf of Fonseca). Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique, also known as Jiquilisco Bay, can be found along the south-central coast of el salvador.
This palace was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2007. It was designated as a Ramsar wetland two years prior, in 2005. This biosphere includes saltwater and brackish water forest; estuaries and canals; isles; a lagoon complex; and mangrove forest.
Nesting sites here include Las Isletas, Isla Madresal, Isla Pajarito, San Sebastián, and Punta San Juan. The Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve in Nicaragua and the Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique account for about 80% of all hawksbill nesting in the Eastern Pacific.
Los Cóbanos Reef Marine Protected Area can be found about 11 km to the east of Acajutla. Los Cóbanos is a rocky coastline and includes volcanic reef formations.
There are about 15 different coral species along the coastline. Nesting sites include Las Flores, Chantene, El Almendro, Menéndez, El Zope, Salinitas, Decameron, La Privada, El Cocal, El Amor, Los Cóbanos, Las Marías, El Flor, and Miravalle.
Punta Amapala is the el slavdor portion of the Gulf of Fonseca. Punta Amapala consists of six nesting beaches.
These are Las Tunnas, Playas Negras, Playas Blancas, El Maculís, La Pulgosa, and El Faro. The nesting season in El Salvador starts in mid-April and ends in mid-October with June and July being the peak.
Eretmochelys imbricata is a critically endangered sea turtle that can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and is usually found in the tropics. The species is migratory and nests in at least 70 countries although in very low densities.
The hawksbill, however, nests in high density in El Salvador which is unsurprisingly an important location for the hawksbill. The hawksbill nest on sandy beaches across the tropics and subtropics.
Newly hatched individuals live in major gyre systems (this is a large circulating ocean current) until they reach a carapace length of 20 to 30 cm. The major gyre systems of the world include the Indian Ocean Gyre, North Atlantic Gyre, North Pacific Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre, and South Pacific Gyre.
Sub adults can be found in neritic developmental foraging habitats. These are habitats that are composed of mudflats, mangrove bays & creeks, algal beads, or hard bottom habitats such as coral reefs.
Reproductively mature individuals will migrate from foraging grounds to breeding groups once every few years. Females tend to return to the breeding/nesting sites where they hatched.
Most hawksbills reach maturity anywhere between 25 to 35 years. E. imbricata faces a number of threats. In El Salvador and other parts of the world, the most severe threats that the species face include the collection of eggs for human consumption, incidental capture by industrial and artisanal fishing, and the alteration of the nesting and foraging habitats.
The eggs of the turtle are used in the preparation of dishes and as such, the qualities of the eggs are collected and sold. Incidental capture occurs when fishing gear meant to caught/harvest other marine species end up trapping turtles.
The coastline also sees residential and commercial development which negatively impacts the nesting habitats of the species. E. imbricata is included in CITES and is listed in Appendix I.
The species is considered to be critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
3. Green Sea Turtle
- Family: Cheloniidae
- Scientific Name: Chelonia mydas agassizi
- Common Names: Green turtle, black sea turtle, black turtle
- Length: 40 to 47 in (100 to 120 cm)
- Weight: 330 to 440 lb (150 to 200 kg)
- IUCN Status: Endangered
Black turtles are also known as green turtles. Although these turtles are black in coloration, the subdermal fat of the species is greenish in coloration.
The greenish color of the body fat gives the turtle the name – green turtle. The black coloration of the shell and body of the turtle gives it the name – black turtle.
The black turtle is quite huge and reaches a length of 40 to 47 inches (100 to 120 cm) and a mass of 330 to 440 lb (150 to 200 kg). The black turtle is regarded as the second largest sea turtle species.
A stable number of black turtles nest in El Salvador with an estimated 200 nests each year. Some beaches where these turtles are known to nest include Jiquilisco Bay and Isla San Sebastian.
The Isla San Sebastian is located about 38 km south of El Salvador and about 103 km southeast of San Salvador. The Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve can be found along the south-central coast of El Salvador.
The black turtle can be found throughout the tropical waters of the world and to a lesser extent, the subtropical waters. As with other sea turtles, the black turtle is migratory and can travel hundreds and even thousands of kilometers from their foraging habitats to their breeding and nesting habitats once every few years.
The habitats of the black turtle change throughout its lifetime. While the exact details aren’t well known or established, it is believed that hatchlings begin life living in the major gyre systems of the world, these include the Indian Ocean Gyre, North Atlantic Gyre, and North Pacific Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre, and South Pacific Gyre.
This is known as the oceanic phase. After this phase, the turtles recruit to neritic developmental areas which are rich in the foods they need to mature.
After reaching reproductive maturity, the turtles move between their breeding and nesting sites and their foraging sites during breeding periods. Adult black turtles reside in coastal foraging habitats when not breeding.
These turtles face several threats which have had significant effects on the population of the species. Threats to the species include the harvesting of the eggs for human consumption, incidental capture by industrial and artisanal fishing, habitat degradation, and disease.
In areas where these turtles nest, turtle eggs are considered a staple part of the community’s foods. Eggs are usually harvested in large quantities and sold in the markets of countries where the black turtle nests.
The eggs are also highly demanded by restaurants. Incidental capture occurs when the turtle is caught in fishing gearing meant to catch other marine animals.
Habitat degradation includes both the degradation of nesting and foraging habitats. Construction of the commercial and residential buildings, sand extraction, and beach re-nourishment & armoring can all lead to habitat degradation.
The turtle is identified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is also included in Appendix I of the CITES and as such classified as an Endangered Species.
4. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
- Family: Cheloniidae
- Scientific Name: Lepidochelys olivacea
- Common Name: Pacific Ridley, Olive Ridley, Olive Ridley turtle, la tortuga golfina
- Length: 30 in (75 cm)
- Weight: 100 lbs (45 kg)
- IUCN Status: Endangered
Olive ridley commonly nests on the beaches of El Salvador. The turtles can be found nesting in places such as Playa El Zonte, Las Bocanitas beach, and Barra De Santiago.
In Barra De Santiago, over 15,000 eggs are hatched every year. Nesting occurs all year round however nesting usually occurs from May to October which is the rainy season. Peak nesting occurs from August to September.
The olive ridley is one of the more common turtles found on the beaches of El Salvador. This turtle can be found nesting throughout the region.
Worldwide, the turtle can be in tropical waters of the world. they also nest throughout the tropic waters except for in the Gulf of Mexico. To a lesser extent, the olive ridley can also be found in some subtropical regions.
For the earlier parts of their life, L. olivacea drifts passively within the major gyre systems. Adults stay in oceanic waters or around the coastal zones of nesting beaches usually within 15 km of the shore.
These turtles travel thousands of kilometers between their feeding grounds and breeding and nesting grounds.
The olive ridley is a large turtle that can reach a length of 30 in or 75 cm and a mass of 100 lb (45 kg). The olive ridley has olive-gray skin and a thin olive shell.
The males have longer tails than the females have. You can differentiate between the two sexes by examing the length of the tails. Females’ tails do not extend past the carapace while males’ do.
The main threat that the olive ridley face in El Salvador is the collection of eggs for human consumption. At nesting sites with no protection, as much as 99% of all eggs laid are collected. This is a threat that olive ridleys face all over the world.
Other threats to the survival of the olive ridley are incidental capture in fisheries, habitat degradation, and diseases. Incidental capture in fisheries also known as bycatch occurs, is when the olive ridley gets trapped in fishing gear targeting other marine species.
The degradation and destruction of nesting beaches have a huge effect on the cervical of olive ridley. Degradation and destruction of the habitats are caused by commercial and residential construction.
L. olivacea is considered Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. the species like all other sea turtle species is included in Appendix I of CITES. This makes the international trade of the turtle or any product made using any part of the turtle forbidden.
5. Leatherback Sea Turtle
- Family: Dermochelyidae
- Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
- Common Names: leatherback, luth, leathery turtle, tortuga laud
- Length: 57 to 63 inches (145 to 160 cm)
- Weight: 551 to 1982 lb (250 to 900 kg)
- IUCN Status: Vulnerable
The leatherback turtle is known to nest at Barra de Santiago and other places along the coast of El Salvador. However, leatherbacks nest sporadically.
Nesting occurs between November and February which is the dry season in El Salvador. The leatherback is the largest turtle in existence.
This turtle is also the largest living reptile on earth. This turtle is known to reach a mass of over 2000 lbs although on average, these giants reach a mass of 551 to 1982 lb (250 to 900 kg).
The majestic leatherback can also reach a length of 57 to 63 inches (145 to 160 cm). Unlike other turtles, the leatherback doesn’t have a hard shell.
This differentiates the species from other marine turtles. Instead of a hard shell, this turtle has a leathery back.
The leatherback is known to feed in subpolar waters. For all other turtles, these waters will be far too cold but not for the leatherback.
This turtle has a network of blood vessels that reduces heat exchange. Additionally, the leatherback has a thick insulating layer of fats and oils.
The leatherback nest in the tropics, but is known to forage in tropical, subtropical, temperate, and even subpolar waters. This species is oceanic and deep-diving, unlike other sea turtles.
The species is known to dive as deep as 1230 m (4035 ft). The species lay eggs on sandy tropical beaches only. Barra de Santiago in El Salvador happens to be one of these beaches.
They feed mainly on jellyfish, siphonophores, and salps. Like other turtles, the leatherback faces several severe threats including the incidental capture of the leatherback in fishing gear, the harvesting of the eggs for human use, the degradation of the nesting habitat caused by coastal developments, pollution & pathogens, and climate change.
At beaches, where there is no protection in place, almost all the eggs laid are collected for consumption and trade. Incidental capture is another major threat.
This occurs when the leatherback is trapped in a piece of fishing equipment that targets other sea turtle species. Coastal developments such as commercial and residential construction, beach modification, and dredging threaten the wild populations of the species.
The species is also affected by marine pollution as well as pathogens such as the fibropapilloma virus. The species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
It is also included in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Frequently Asked Questions
Can turtles in El Salvador be kept as pets?
No, the turtles found in El Salvador cannot be kept as pets. This is because out of the five turtles endemic to El Salvador, four are marine turtles.
Keeping these turtles or their eggs is prohibited. The only freshwater turtle endemic to El Salvador is the giant musk turtle.
This turtle is considered near threatened and as such shouldn’t be kept as pets. Very little information is known about the captive breeding of the species.
For all intended purposes, the giant musk turtle is yet to be bred in captivity.
Are turtles found in El Salvador endangered?
Most of the turtles found in El Salvador are considered endangered. The hawksbill is considered critically endangered.
The black turtle and the olive ridley are considered endangered and the leatherback is considered vulnerable. The only freshwater turtle in El Salvador, the pacific coast giant musk turtle is considered near threatened.
These statuses are the IUCN statuses of the chelonians.
Are Salvadoran turtles dangerous?
No, they are not. Salvadoran turtles do not attack humans.
However, when provoked, the giant musk turtle might act defensively and bite or scratch you. It is also essential to keep in mind that turtles carry the salmonella bacteria just like all other reptiles.
This can lead to food poisoning when eaten or salmonella infection. It is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling a turtle.
Food poisoning from eating turtles isn’t only caused by the salmonella bacteria. Turtle meat can be toxic and cause chelonitoxication.
Symptoms include itchy mouth and throat, painful mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, tongue ulceration, dysphagia, and even permanent paralysis.
El Salvador is home to more than a wide host of species. These include 1000 butterfly species, 500 bird species, 800 marine fish species, and many more.
Four out of the eight marine turtles can be found in el Salvador. All four sea turtles can be found along the shore in places such as Bahía de Jiquilisco-Xiriualtique or the Jiquilisco Bay which is host to all four turtles.
Sea turtles can also be found in Isla San Sebastian, Los Cóbanos, and Punta Amapala. The coast of El Salvador is essential to the Eastern Pacific population of hawksbill as the Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve in Nicaragua and theJiquilisco Bay account for about 80% of all hawksbill nesting in the Eastern Pacific.
One freshwater turtle can also be found in El Salvador and this is the Pacific Coast giant musk turtle. If you have any questions or additional information, kindly leave a comment.