This is Tammy, a green turtle who visits the waters around Sri Lanka:

Tammy, a female green turtle, was the first turtle to be identified under the program. Image courtesy of Krysztof Bargiel.

The Sri Lankan public is being asked to help build a database (a set of information) of individual marine turtles like Tammy. The project is called the Sri Lankan Turtle ID Project.

This citizen science project was started in 2019 by a marine biologist, Chathurika Munasinghe, and diving center manager, Randunu Dimeshan. The idea was inspired by a similar turtle identification project in the Maldives that has identified more than 1200 unique turtles since 2011.

How does the project work?

Marine turtles have facial scale patterns that are unique to each individual animal. The first project to use these facial scales for identification was in Réunion, an island in the western Indian Ocean.

This is what turtle facial scales look like:

Mapped facial scale patterns that are unique to individual turtles, recorded using special software, courtesy of the Sri Lanka Turtle ID project.

Step 1: take photographs

Divers and researchers are trained to take photographs of turtles. As with any wildlife photography, photographers must be responsible, respect the animals, and avoid disrupting their natural behavior.

Step 2: submit photographs for analysis

Photographs are submitted to the Sri Lankan Turtle ID Project website and analysed using special software. The software maps out turtle facial scale patterns and compares the results to all the individual turtles in the database. This helps the team determine if a new turtle has been discovered.

When a new turtle is discovered, the person who submitted the photograph gets to name it.

This is Chuta:

The project allows the observer who uploads photos of a previously unidentified turtle to name it. Image courtesy of Terney Pradeep Kumara.

What does the team hope to learn?

So far, the team has identified 18 hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and three green turtles (Chelonia mydas). There are five species of marine turtles that visit the waters around Sri Lanka.

Over time, the team hopes to identify lots of different turtles and learn more about them, their behavior, and their conservation needs.

Specifically, they want to learn the population size (how many there are) of each turtle species, where the turtles feed and breed, and where they move (their migration patterns).

Learn more about why scientists collect data on individual animals: click here!

Modified from on an original article on

Scientific paper about using facial features to identify marine turtles:

Jean, C., Ciccione, S., Talma, E., Ballorain, K., & Bourjea, J. (2010). Photo-identification method for green and hawksbill turtles — First results from Réunion. Indian Ocean Turtle Newsletter10, 8-13. Retrieved from