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Sea Turtle Week 2022: Celebrating sea turtle conservation

by NOAA Fisheries 18 Jun 19:29 UTC 13-17 June 2022
An immature green sea turtle swims above a coral reef at Baker Island in the Pacific Island Remote Area. © NOAA Fisheries

Let's dive into Sea Turtle Week! This week-long celebration of sea turtle conservation is centered around World Sea Turtle Day on Thursday June 16.

This year our celebration highlights the impact of climate change on sea turtles, how sea turtles hear and why understanding their hearing is important, and what you can do to protect sea turtles.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world. Six of them live in U.S. waters: hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley, Kemp's ridley, green, and leatherback sea turtles. All of these species are listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries leads the conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment. Most sea turtle species face similar threats from human impacts.

NOAA Fisheries conserves sea turtles

Sea turtles can become trapped, hooked, or entangled in fishing gear, most commonly in trawls, longlines, and gillnets. This is called bycatch and is the greatest threat to sea turtles in the United States. NOAA Fisheries is committed to reducing bycatch to protect and conserve sea turtles. We are actively working to reduce their primary threats and help turn the tide toward recovery.

  • In the southeast Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we have worked closely with the trawl fishing industry to develop turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to reduce the mortality of sea turtles caught in shrimp trawl gear, where they can drown.
  • In the Hawaii and California-based pelagic longline fisheries and the California and Oregon drift gillnet fishery, we require certain measures, including fishing gear modifications, changes to fishing practices, and fishing closures during certain times and in certain areas to reduce sea turtle bycatch.
  • As sea turtles are highly migratory across ocean basins and given NOAA Fisheries' jurisdiction in the marine environment, a significant portion of our work is focused on mitigating sea turtle bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries internationally.

How you can help protect sea turtles

We need you to help save sea turtles! Here's how you can protect sea turtles:

Become a conscious and responsible seafood consumer
Ask where and how your seafood was caught. Choose seafood caught in ways that do not harm or kill turtles. Consult sustainable seafood information networks to learn about how and where your seafood is caught.

Watch for sea turtles in the water
Give them at least 50 yards of space. If you see them close by, put your engine in neutral to avoid harm. Viewing guidelines and laws vary by region, state, and species. Please be familiar with the applicable rules before you visit our coastal waters. Boat strikes are a serious threat to sea turtles, so slow down, keep a watchful eye out, and steer around them. Remember: Go Slow: Sea Turtles Below.

Dispose of trash properly on land

Sea turtles can ingest plastics and other debris and be injured or killed. Recycle whenever possible and use alternatives to single-use plastics. Never abandon fishing gear. Hooks, lines, or nets left in the water can entangle and kill sea turtles

Report turtles in distress

Contact your local sea turtle stranding network if you see a sick or injured sea turtle. Do not try to help the sea turtle on your own. Reporting a sick, injured, entangled, stranded, or dead animal is the best way to make sure professional responders and scientists know about it and can take appropriate action.

Kim Damon-Randall
Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources

7 sea turtle facts for the ocean lover

Watch this short video to learn about sea turtles and dive into more details below.

1. In many parts of the world, hawksbills are threatened by hunting for their beautiful shell

Also known as "tortoise shell," it is used by craftspeople to create many types of jewelry and trinkets. The historical hunting and killing of hawksbills for their shell nearly drove the species to extinction. Today, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species forbids the trade of any turtle products on the international market, including hawksbill tortoise shell. Illegal hunting and trade continue to threaten the species in many parts of the world.

Learn more about the hawksbill turtle

2. Leatherbacks are the only species of sea turtle that don't have a hard shell

Their shell (carapace) consists of small, interlocking bones beneath the skin that overlie a supportive layer of connective tissue and fat and the deeper skeleton. The carapace has seven distinct keels and the front flippers are proportionally longer than other sea turtles and their back flippers are paddle-shaped. Both their streamlined carapace and their large flippers make the leatherback uniquely equipped for long distance foraging migrations. Some swim more than 10,000 miles a year between nesting and foraging grounds.

Learn more about the Pacific leatherback turtle, a NOAA Fisheries Species in the Spotlight

3. Sea turtle diet varies depending on the species

Loggerheads are carnivores, only occasionally consuming plant material. Juveniles and adults in coastal waters eat mostly bottom dwelling invertebrates such as whelks, other mollusks, horseshoe crabs, and other crabs. Their powerful jaws are designed to crush their prey.

Hawksbill turtles use their sharp beak to reach into small holes and crevices in coral reefs to find their preferred food source—sponges. Leatherbacks have spiny "papillae" lining their mouth and esophagus—these spines help them trap and consume their main prey species, jellyfish. Green sea turtles are unique among sea turtles in that they are primarily herbivores, eating mostly seagrasses and algae. This diet is what gives their cartilage and fat a greenish color (not their shells), which is where their name comes from.

4. Ridley sea turtles have unique nesting habits

The two species of ridley sea turtles - Kemp's ridleys and the olive ridleys—primarily nest in groups—this phenomenon is called an "arribada," which is Spanish for "arrival." Hundreds to thousands of turtles come ashore across several hours or days and lay thousands to hundreds of thousands of eggs. This nesting behavior is designed to swamp natural predators which ensures that enough eggs and hatchlings will survive to keep the population stable. Kemp's ridley and olive ridleys are the two smallest species of sea turtles.

5. All sea turtles are threatened by pollution and marine debris

Pollution of nearshore and offshore marine habitats threatens all sea turtles and degrades their habitats. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history and affected all life stages and species of sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico. Ingestion of marine debris is another threat to all species of sea turtles. Turtles may ingest marine debris such as fishing line, balloons, plastic bags, floating tar or oil, and other materials they can mistake for food. Microplastics are an increasing threat to sea turtles, especially young turtles living and feeding near the surface.

See what you can do to help sea turtles

6. Sea turtles lay about 100 eggs per nest

During the nesting season, females of most species of sea turtles will nest about every two weeks over several months and lay multiple nests before leaving the nesting area and returning to their foraging grounds. Every two to five years they undertake reproductive migrations and return to nest on a beach in the general area where they hatched decades earlier. Over her lifetime, a female will produce thousands of eggs and hatchlings.

7. Sand temperature is very important

The sex of sea turtles, like many other turtles, is determined by the temperature in the nest. Cooler incubation temperatures produce primarily male hatchlings and warmer incubation temperatures produce primarily female hatchlings. Temperatures that fluctuate between the two extremes will produce a mix of male and female hatchlings. Watch the video below to learn about research on alarming trends as global temperatures rise, and fewer male turtles are hatching from the nesting beaches.

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