The Gambia is a confirmed nesting location for four species of sea turtle, the Green, the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill and the Leatherback. To date we have not had a confirmed Loggerhead nest but we are confident they come to the offshore waters to breed and then to the beach to nest because they have been caught by the canoe fishermen.
Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas - IUCN Redlist; endangered). The name Green Turtle is a little confusing because the turtle is not green. It gets its name from the colour of its fat because of its adult vegetarian diet. For a long time Green Turtles were hunted and used for making soup. Green Turtles are distributed throughout tropical waters. The Green turtle is the most common nesting turtle in The Gambia from our observations.
Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea - IUCN Redlist; vulnerable). The Olive Ridley is the second most common sea turtle nesting in The Gambia and can be found along most of the coast. Like other species of sea turtles, they come back to nest on the same beach on which they were born. Olive Ridleys are one of the smaller species of sea turtle.
Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate - IUCN Redlist; critically endangered). The Hawksbill turtle is known for having the nicest shell. For centuries people hunted Hawksbills for their shells to make tortoise shell products. Hawksbill turtles have been recorded nesting in The Gambia however their numbers are very low throughout their range.
Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea - IUCN Redlist; vulnerable). The Leatherback is the largest of the sea turtles and the only one with a soft shell. They travel the worlds oceans and their diet consists mostly of jellyfish. They can dive down to depths of 1200 metres below the surface. Locally in The Gambia the Leatherback is greatly threatened by poaching due to its large size.
Loggerhead (Caretta caretta - IUCN Redlist; endangered). At Smile For Life we believe there are Loggerhead turtles in the offshore waters but we have not had a confirmed Loggerhead nest since we started our records. There is an east Atlantic population of Loggerhead turtles centered mainly around the Cape Verde islands and occasionally canoe fishermen catch one. The Loggerhead has very powerful jaws that it uses to crush crabs, lobsters and mollusks.
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