100 Green Sea Turtles Are Thriving in This Polluted California River

Winding through Long Beach, Calif., the murky San Gabriel Rivercontains trash,the runoff from a flood channel and the outflow from two power plants.

Yet 100 green sea turtles, which normally livein crystal-clear tropical waters, have somehow managed to thrive in this polluted habitat for years.

When 22 green sea turtles were first discovered in the San Gabriel River in 2008, scientists weren’t sure if they were simply stopping on their way north from central Mexico or if they would stay there permanently.

Green sea turtles can make their way as far north as Alaska, but they usually return to Mexico or Central America when theyreach their 20s. These endangered creaturescan live to be 80 or older.

Thanks to more protections and less poaching, the green sea turtle population has been increasing in Mexico.

As an experiment nine years ago, Dan Crear, then a grad student at California State University, Long Beach, affixedGPS transmitters to the turtles’ shells. Only two of the turtles left the San Gabriel River. The others stayed put, roaming between the river and the nearby Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge.

Although pollution and fishing lines have taken their toll on green sea turtles around the world, all the gunk in the San Gabriel River doesn’t seem to be affecting the ones that have made their home there. However, last summer one of the turtles did become entangled in fishing line and was fortunately rescued by a stand-up paddleboarder.

For thepast decade, scientist have wonderedwhat these green sea turtles eat in order to survive. Adult green sea turtles are herbivores, but researchersdiscovered that the turtlesin the San Gabriel River eat just about everything — from snails to grass. Amazingly, the animalssomehow managed to avoid digesting large quantities of toxic metals and carcinogens.

“These turtles are fairly healthy, at least right now,” Arthur Barraza, a grad student in marine biology at CSULB, told the Los Angeles Times. “Contaminants accumulate in their tissues over time, and their harmful effects can initially be subtle and hard to detect.”

In an effort to find out more about how the green sea turtles survivein the San Gabriel River, Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific joined forces with NOAA Fisheries, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority and the ecological consulting firm Tidal Influence to launch the San Gabriel River Pacific Green Sea Turtle Monitoring Project. With the help of volunteer citizen scientists, turtle sightings are counted and recorded each month.

“The small turtles have heads about the size of a golf ball and the large turtles, their heads are about the size of a soft ball or a grapefruit,” Casandra Davis, who trains the volunteers, told KPCC. Adult green sea turtles can become as large as a school desk, Davis said.

To help improve the green sea turtles’ habitat, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is currently removing trash like tires, shopping carts and plastic bottles from that area of the San Gabriel River.

“We have the ability to transform this unlikely habitat into an urban oasis for wildlife, including Los Angeles’ resident sea turtles,” Davis told the L.A. Times. “So we ought to do that, because they deserve better than this.”

Photo credit: annca


Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 months ago

Maybe they are working to help clean up the river.?.

joan s
joan s6 months ago


Margie FOURIE6 months ago

So glad that they are thriving.

Cally Smith
Cally Smith6 months ago

Yes they DO deserve better than this. Every creature on this planet deserves better than what scraps we throw them. Surviving or not, CLEAN IT UP! Thank you to those who are doing just that. Beautiful turtles.

heather g
heather g7 months ago

They've had more than enough time to clear that river of pollutants - it is disgusting with that thick white foam....

Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris7 months ago

Cruel Justice, if the article says they are thriving, then who are we to say otherwise? Do NOT underestimate the power of Mother Nature!

iloshechka A
iloshechka A7 months ago


W. C
W. C7 months ago


William C
William C7 months ago

Thank you.