Here are Five Ways to Help Five Sea Turtle Species

“Beachgoers can have a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of nesting and hatchling sea turtles. Following a few simple yet important tips can save turtles’ lives and safeguard essential habitat for these magnificent creatures.”

Elizabeth Fleming, Defenders of Wildlife’s Senior Florida Representative
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

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 is Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. 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. This Refuge hosts the majority of loggerhead turtles’ nests in Florida and is also a significant area for green sea turtle nesting in North America. 

“While we are pleased the ACSC designation increases protection of this habitat from impacts of development, there is still much more to be done to protect these turtles and their essential beach and in-water habitat areas,” said Elizabeth Fleming, Defenders of Wildlife’s Senior Florida Representative.

Florida’s beaches are home to more than 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting in the continental U.S. And, of the world’s seven sea turtle species, five use Florida’s 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.

“Beachgoers can have a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of nesting and hatchling sea turtles,” Fleming continued.  “Following a few simple yet important tips can save turtles’ lives and safeguard essential habitat for these magnificent creatures.” 

We are currently in the height of sea turtle nesting season for 2023. As of May 31, 2023, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 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. To help understand the bigger picture of turtle nesting in Florida, look at the complete 2022 nesting season: the Commission documented 116,765 loggerhead nests; 37,028 green turtle nests; 1,848 leatherback  nests; and seven Kemp’s ridleys on Florida beaches.

Dive into the five sea turtle species frequenting Florida’s beaches and check out five ways you can help sea turtles at beaches everywhere!

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

The loggerhead turtle is the most abundant sea turtle found in Florida. It’s named for its large head. Adults average around 275 pounds and their a reddish-brown shell can reach three feet long. Loggerheads primarily eat jellyfish, crabs and a variety of mollusks.

Image
Yellow box with "Tip #1: Keep beaches and the ocean clean! Sea turtles can become tangled in human litter on the shore and in the water. Fishing lines, balloons and plastic bags are often confused for food. Using reusable shopping bags and water bottles are easy steps to reduce your use of plastics that ultimately threaten sea turtles and many other coastal and marine animals." written in it.
Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas)
Image
2017.09.21 - Green Sea Turtle - Swimming - Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument - Hawaii - NOAA
John Burns/NOAA

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.

Image
Yellow box with "Tip #2: If you are visiting or live near a beach, cover or turn off lights that are visible from the beach at night. Turtles use the light of the moon and stars reflecting over the water to navigate their return to the ocean. Artificial lights, however, sometimes outshine the natural, leading hatchlings away from the sea and disorienting adults inland. Dehydration and collisions with vehicles in parking lots and roads are often fatal and hatchlings who linger ashore are more likely to fall prey to birds, crabs and other predators." written in it.
Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)
Image
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. 

Image
Yellow box with "Tip #3: Choose sustainably caught seafood. As turtles swim between their nesting and foraging sites, they can become entangled with fishing gear – known as bycatch. Many certified sustainable fisheries must meet criteria that limits bycatches." written in it.
Kemp’s Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys kempii)
Image
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
James Emert

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.  

Image
Yellow box with "Tip #4: Choose sustainably caught seafood. As turtles swim between their nesting and foraging sites, they can become entangled with fishing gear – known as bycatch. Many certified sustainable fisheries must meet criteria that limits bycatches." written in it.
Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Image
2014.12.16 - Hawksbill Sea Turtle - Florida - Joe Quinn-Alamy Stock Photo
Joe Quinn/Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Image
Yellow box with "Tip #Volunteer and spread the word! Organize a clean-up day to clear the beach of litter. Take part in a beach patrol to monitor nesting sites and hatching progress. And most importantly, talk to others about what they can do to help keep our magnificent sea turtles safe!5: " written in it.

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

 

Image
5 Things to Do to Help Turtles.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Senior Florida Representative
efleming@defenders.org
(727) 823-3888

Related

News

Image
Southern Resident Orca Calf

Southern Resident Orcas Receive Oregon Endangered Species Protections

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted today to protect Southern Resident orcas under the state’s Endangered Species Act, responding to a February 2023 petition
Image
A dead right whale floating about 20 miles offshore of Tybee Island, Georgia on February 14, 2024. Two sharks swim close by.

Critically Endangered Whale Dies Due to Inaction of Biden Administration

The North Atlantic right whale reported dead on Feb. 13 off the coast of Georgia was likely hit and killed by a vessel strike, NOAA