Elizabeth Fleming and Allison Cook

Florida’s beaches are home to more than 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the continental U.S. And, of the seven sea turtle species in the world, five use those same beaches as nesting habitats. All five of these sea turtle species are listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, making it especially important to know what you can do to protect these ancient reptiles. 

Just so you understand the bigger picture of what we are talking about, in the 2022 nesting season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission documented 116,765 loggerhead nests; 37,028 green turtle nests; 1,848 leatherback nests; and seven Kemp’s ridleys on Florida beaches. And as of May 31, 2023, the Commission estimated 35,495 loggerhead nests; 2,086 green turtle nests; 1,194 leatherback nests; and, 10 Kemp’s Ridley nests so far this year. There are usually only a few hawksbill nests documented each year. 

That’s a lot of turtle nests and the 2023 numbers will only continue to climb as we are in the height of sea turtle nesting season.  So, let’s dive into the five sea turtle species frequenting Florida’s beaches and check out five ways you can help them! 

Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta
2010.08.27 - Loggerhead Sea Turtle Heading to the Sea - Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge - Brevard County - Florida - Robbyn Spratt
Robbyn Spratt

Beaches along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida support the largest aggregation of nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the world. Within this range, the majority of these turtles’ nest at Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Brevard County and is a significant area for green turtle nesting in North America. 

On June 20, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Brevard Barrier Island Area Protection Act designating the southern area of Brevard County, including the entirety of the Refuge, as an Area of Critical State Concern. While the ACSC designation increases protection of this habitat from impacts of development, there is still more to be done to protect these turtles and their essential beach and in-water habitat areas.  

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Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas

Florida beaches are home to the second-largest nesting area for green sea turtles in the wider Caribbean. In the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, green sea turtle nest counts grew from 50 in 1990 to over 12,000 today! Green sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the world with adults reaching three to four feet in length and weighing in at upwards of 400 pounds. 

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Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea
2014.07.25 - Leatherback Sea Turtle Hatchlings - Amelia Island - Florida - Kathryn Brooks
Kathryn Brooks

Florida is home to almost all the nesting sites in North America for leatherback sea turtles. The leatherback is the largest and deepest diving sea turtle in the world. They are also the only sea turtle not to have scales and a hard shell. Leatherbacks can swim over 10,000 miles a year, migrating between their nesting and foraging sites.  

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Kemp’s Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys kempii

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered, rarest and smallest sea turtle species in the world. Most are found in the Gulf of Mexico. While not as frequent to Florida’s beaches as the above-mentioned species, Kemp’s ridley turtles are seen in area waters and nest occasionally on Florida beaches. These turtles primarily eat crabs, but will also prey on fish, jellyfish and small mollusks.  

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Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata
2011.06.16 - Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Caroline S. Rogers - NOAA
Caroline S. Rogers - NOAA

Hawksbills are the rarest nesting sea turtle in Florida and are found primarily on reefs in the Florida Keys and along the southeastern Atlantic coast. Hawksbill turtles are named after the shape of their mouth, which helps them access food in reef cracks and crevices. It is the only species of sea turtle that can survive on a diet consisting mainly of sponges. 

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Help us spread the word on protecting sea turtles! Download and share this quick guide:

5 Things to Do to Help Turtles.


Elizabeth Fleming

Elizabeth Fleming

Senior Florida Representative
Elizabeth develops conservation objectives and strategies and works with partners to protect and restore Florida’s imperiled wildlife, their habitat and establish a state ecological network.
A Cook Headshot

Allison Cook

Content Writer

Areas of Expertise: Communications, writing for the blog and website

Allison joined Defenders of Wildlife in 2023 after working for Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation


Wildlife & Wild Places

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling

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