100 Sea Turtle Tattoo Designs & Meanings: Shell Yeah!

Looking for some turtle tattoo ideas? We showcase our favorites and explain the meanings behind them.

turtle tattoo puzzle

The idea of tattoo designs involving animals is probably as old as tattooing itself.

In recent years, one animal gaining popularity in the realm of tattoo representation is the sea turtle.

These beautiful and gentle creatures make for amazing-looking tattoos with an interesting meaning behind them.

turtle tattoo


Cultural Meaning of Turtles

Turtles are important symbols in some cultures. For instance, in Hawaii, sea turtles are associated with good luck. This is likely due to the tough start in life that sea turtles face: once they hatch from eggs on the beach, they have to make their way to the water, completely vulnerable and fully exposed to attacks from predators.

turtle tattoo colorful

And it doesn’t get much better for a newly hatched sea turtle – even once they’re in the sea, they have no means of defending themselves. Since a sea turtle has to be very fortunate to live to see adulthood, it’s no surprise that they are a symbol of luck.

Turtles also play a vital role in Native American mythology – which actually refers to North America as ‘Turtle Island’. The legend goes that the continent is balanced on the back of an enormous mythical turtle, who offered its shell as a home for all land animals. The turtle was seen as a symbol of longevity, with people getting turtle tattoos as a way to honor their elders and ancestors.

In Asian cultures, the turtle is often seen as a symbol of protection, with people getting turtle tattoos as a way to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

In modern times, turtle tattoos have become a popular choice for surfers and ocean enthusiasts, with many people getting them to commemorate their love of the sea and the freedom and tranquility it represents.

red turtle tattoo

Sea Turtle Tattoo Meaning

The turtle, in general, is a very positive symbol, often associated with immortality, strength, stability, fertility, and creation.

Turtles are also associated with perseverance and patience – you’re sure to have heard the phrase, ‘slow and steady wins the race’, and perhaps you’re familiar with the ‘Rabbit and Turtle’ children’s story, about how a turtle won a race against a rabbit through consistent and calm actions.

Other meanings and values associated with turtles include:

  • Resilience – This association is likely to be the result of the turtle’s longevity. A sea turtle can live up to around 80 years, while some species of land turtles (tortoises) can reach the age of over 100. As they age, turtles increase in size, and… And that’s it. Otherwise, their appearance doesn’t change that much with the passing years, underlining the notion of resilience.
  • Serenity – The symbolism referring to serenity is likely the result of the turtle’s slow pace, which gives the illusion of calm and not being rushed.
  • Good health – The turtle’s very long lifespan, again, is likely to be responsible for this association.
  • Wisdom – The turtle is also seen as a symbol of wisdom, particularly in African and Greek cultures.

turtle tattoo with rose

Turtle Tattoo Design Ideas

When coming up with a turtle tattoo design, there’s plenty of space for creativity. Turtles will look great both in color and in all-black, cartoon-style, traditional, watercolor, or hyper-realistic.

Related: Don’t miss our guide to ship tattoo ideas and their symbolism next.

tribal turtle tattoo

Easy to scale down, some symbolic turtle designs can be as small as a couple of centimeters – but you could also get a full sleeve or choose a turtle tattoo design that will cover your entire back.

The possibilities are endless. If you’re stuck for ideas, consider the following:

  • Tribal – Tribal elements go very well with images of turtles, and are a popular choice. They are often in Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, and Polynesian styles, likely because these tribes considered turtles as important symbols.
  • 3D – Hyper-realistic 3D tattoos are tough to get right, but when they’re done well, they look incredibly impressive. If this is an option you’re thinking of going for in regards to your tattoo, it’s best to ensure that your chosen tattoo artist knows what they are doing. Successful 3D tattooing takes huge amounts of expertise – make sure that the person doing your tattoo has worked in this style before.
  • Cartoon – You probably already know where this is going. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tattoos are fairly common and can be the perfect choice for a fan of the series. A TMNT tattoo would likely need to be in color and relatively big to show off all the details and ensure the characters are recognizable.
  • Celtic – the Celtic people believed turtles to be sacred creatures, so a Celtic-style tattoo of a turtle would make perfect sense. The rounded outlines often present in Celtic-inspired art go really well with the shape of the turtle.
  • Turtle in the water – if you want the turtle in your tattoo design to have some context, consider adding watercolor splashes of blue and green to represent the sea. Depending on the placement and style of your tattoo, this could liven up the design and turn it into a complete image, rather than the single element of the turtle.

Recommended: Looking for heart tattoo ideas? Check out our guide!

Red turtle and croc tattoo

Credit: @funky_boy_tattoo

Turtle Tattoo Ideas

Turtle tattoos can be a fun and surprisingly creative idea. Working great in all styles, sizes and color schemes, turtle designs are easy to customize and make unique.

Take a look at the gallery below to see others’ ideas on turtle tattoos!

Black ink turtle tattoo on arm

Credit: @tattooist_daone

turtle and mermaid tattoos

Credit: @renytattoos

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This colorful turtle tattoo work is a terrapin rather than a turtle but is impressive in its style.

Turtle Tattoos

Watercolor style tattoos are popular with turtles as subjects. This is a really nice example.

Turtle Tattoos

I love this really bold color style that makes it a real standout. The contrast with the orange fire is a real eye-catching statement.

Turtle Tattoos

This turtle themed tattoo has real Hawaiian vibes.

Turtle Tattoos

One of the more realistic examples on show, this tattoo looks like it’s the starting point of a huge back-piece. I can’t wait to see the finished piece!

Turtle Tattoos Turtle Tattoos

Turtle Tattoos Turtle Tattoos

Turtles are common imagery used in tribal tattoos coming from Polynesia and Hawaii. This is a great example of the traditional island patterns.

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We love geometric tattoos here at The Style Up! This is a great turtle themed example with a faint watercolor vibe going on too.

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