FAQS: SNORKELING WITH SEA TURTLES
Have you ever been snorkeling with sea turtles? We’re fortunate that in the US Virgin Islands, there are plenty of opportunities to see these miraculous creatures up close.
While you can definitely get lucky and spot a sea turtle when snorkeling just about anywhere in the USVI, there are a few snorkel spots, in particular, where they tend to gather in larger numbers, almost guaranteeing you a sea turtle sighting.
We do rent snorkel gear on both St. Thomas and St. John for you to head out and explore the Virgin Islands waters on your own, however, we recommend that you join us on one of our guided tours. Our expert guides will take you to our favorite sea turtle snorkel spots, they will help answer any questions you have in the moment, and will also provide insights and fun facts about the sea life around you.
Our most popular USVI sea turtle snorkeling tour is our Kayak + Snorkel with Sea Turtles Tour on St. John. (You can reserve your spot and get the tour’s details by clicking the link!)
In this post, we’re answering some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about snorkeling with sea turtles to help you get excited for your next USVI sea turtle experience.
Where can I snorkel with sea turtles?
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll start to spot sea turtles both above and below the water in the USVI. If you’re on a boat or onshore, you can often catch their heads poking out of the surface of the water when they come up for a gulp of air. Underwater, you can snorkel with sea turtles in several spots off the shores of both St. Thomas and St. John. Our most popular sea turtle snorkeling tour is linked above. On that tour, we kayak over to Scott Beach on Caneel Bay, St. John. The sea turtles love this low traffic, protected area. Keep in mind that when looking for sea turtles, they tend to go where there’s food (lots of seagrass!) and protection. So beyond Scott Beach, you can find sea turtles off the beaches where there is an abundance of seagrass, or “turtle grass” as locals call it.
What kinds of sea turtles are in the US Virgin Islands?
The USVI is home to three of the seven species of sea turtle. Here you are most likely to snorkel with green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles. Leatherback sea turtles also inhabit the waters of the Virgin Islands, though they are more rare to see.
Can I touch the sea turtles?
No, we ask that you please respect the sea turtles and refrain from touching them. Both green and hawksbill sea turtles are on the endangered list and are protected in the US Virgin Islands. There are stiff penalties (up to a $5,000 fine and/or imprisonment) for harassing the sea turtles by touching them, riding them, or otherwise disturbing them. Please admire them with your eyes, not your hands.
Can I take pictures with the sea turtles?
You are welcome to take pictures of the sea turtles, so long as you do not disturb their natural behavior while doing so. Please do not chase the sea turtles for a photo, as it frightens them. If using a selfie stick or other extended camera device, please remember to maintain the same distance and do not intrude upon the sea turtles’ personal safe space. Please also remember to not hover above the sea turtles, which can make them feel trapped beneath you and unable to come up for air when they need.
Can I feed the sea turtles?
Sea turtles are great at finding their own food and their natural diet is essential for them to maintain optimal health. Not only is human food bad for their health, feeding the sea turtles also teaches them to seek out humans for food in the future, which puts them at a far greater risk of injuries or death by boating accidents. Please do not feed the sea turtles. You can watch them eat the seagrass that they love when you’re snorkeling with them!
What do the sea turtles eat?
Green sea turtles are herbivores and largely stick to eating seagrass and algae. Hawksbill turtles love their greens too, but will also snack on sponges and other invertebrates such as jellyfish and anemones.
How long do sea turtles live?
It can be tricky to get long term data on the lives of sea turtles due to the distances they travel. Studies have found that sea turtles can live for 50+ years, if they make it into adulthood.
How long can a sea turtle hold its breath?
Sea turtles can hold their breath for a surprisingly long time. If they’re relaxed and resting, they can hold their breath for a couple of hours. But if they’re stressed or otherwise active, they need air more frequently. Usually, when you see sea turtles while snorkeling, you’ll observe them going up for air every 5-10 minutes or so while they eat and swim around.
How fast can a sea turtle swim?
Generally, sea turtles swim around slowly, grazing and enjoying “island time.” If they’re being chased or feel threatened in some way though, they can swim quite fast, reaching speeds of up to 25 mph for short distances.
When do the sea turtles lay their eggs? Can I see the sea turtle babies once they’ve hatched?
In the US Virgin Islands, we’re fortunate to have the VIIS Turtle Monitoring program in place on St. John. Volunteers monitor and protect the sea turtles’ nesting sites and the hatchlings. Sea turtles nest from July – November in the USVI, though peak nesting season begins in August. If you’re on island during those months, there is a chance that you could see the sea turtle babies once they’ve hatched. However, please keep in mind that the nesting areas are protected and we must not walk, crawl, or otherwise disturb the areas, nor interfere with the baby sea turtles. Please also refrain from shining light onto the beaches at night.
How can I help protect the sea turtles of the USVI?
There are several ways you can respect and protect the sea turtles in the US Virgin Islands. First and foremost, when snorkeling with sea turtles, please maintain a respectful distance and do not interfere with their natural behavior (Think 6-10 ft for “social distancing” with sea turtles). Next, be sure to remove all of your trash from the beach and ensure it doesn’t end up in the water. Sea turtles can mistake plastic bags and other trash for food. Next, use reef safe sunscreen or, better yet, no sunscreen at all (our rash guards are an excellent eco-friendly alternative!). Lastly, we recommend that you check out the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park’s “Adopt a Sea Turtle” program which allows you to help them protect sea turtle nests, facilitate research projects, and spread awareness of sea turtle conservation.
We hope that helps answer some of your questions about swimming and snorkeling with the sea turtles in the US Virgin Islands! If you have more questions, our guides will be happy to share their local knowledge on your next tour.