Sea turtle tattoos have several different meanings across various different cultures with common themes being patience, longevity, wisdom and peace. Societies ranging from the Japanese, Native Americans, Polynesians and African tribes all give deep meaning to sea turtle tattoos.
Within many Native American tribes, the sea turtle symbolizes the creation of humans. In their folklore, a giant sea turtle brought mud up from the global ocean to form the continents. The turtle can also symbolize Mother Earth, the motions of the moon and the feminine cycle. In the Zuni and Navajo tribes of Southwest America, the turtle symbolizes health and longevity because they can reach ages of up to 150 years old. These tribes would place turtle symbols on medicine bags that would help the person wearing them defy death, which a modern tattoo also symbolizes.
In the Caribbean countries, turtles are considered an aphrodisiac and were once hunted by men to improve sexual prowess and virility. This practice is no longer legal, so people turn to tattoos of sea turtles to symbolize this instead. In Polynesian culture, the sea turtle represents the ocean, which is the source of food for the culture. The Polynesians also believe that the ocean is the place beyond this world and because the turtle can move freely throughout the ocean, it will bring the dead to their final resting place. Polynesian sea turtle tattoos consist of abstract and complex patterns compared to the realistic depictions found in tattoo parlors of today.