Sea Turtles Marine Life



Lessons and Activities

Real World Data

Background Information

Career Profiles

Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles with streamlined bodies and large flippers. They are well adapted to life in the ocean and inhabit tropical and subtropical ocean waters around the world. Of the seven species of sea turtles, six are found in U.S. waters. These include the green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females have to return to beaches to lay their eggs. They often migrate long distances between feeding areas and nesting beaches.

sea turtle
Loggerhead Turtle escaping a net equipped with turtle excluder device (TED)
(Photo Credit: NOAA)

The six species of sea turtles in the U.S. are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) administer the Endangered Species Act with respect to marine turtles.  NOAA Fisheries has the lead for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles when turtles are at sea.  The USFWS has the lead when sea turtles are on nesting beaches.

Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: damage and changes to turtle’s nesting and foraging habitats; accidental capture by fishermen: getting tangled in marine debris; and being hit by boats and ships.  To decrease the capture of sea turtles in commercial fishing, use of certain kinds of fishing gear (gill nets, long-lines, pound nets, and trawls) that are known to catch large numbers of sea turtles are restricted. NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed plans to guide research and management efforts for each sea turtle species to improve their health and long-term survival outlook.

The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires cooperation and agreements to make sure these migratory animals survive. NOAA Fisheries partners with other agencies and groups, and has a national and international programs to help conservation and recovery efforts of sea turtles.

Education Connection
The education resources in this collection provide educators and students opportunities to explore the biology and adaptations of sea turtles, their position in marine food webs, the human and natural threats to their survival, and the conservation efforts being used to protect them.  In addition, resources are provided that allow students ways to become involved in improving the sea turtles’ outlook. Activities include habitat restoration, turtle interaction etiquette, and tracking sea turtles through real-time radio telemetry data from the ocean.

Adapted from materials provided by NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.

Page last updated: 3/19/2013

Baby Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles released
Researchers Assessing Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

August 2012 (DOI DWH NRDA)
Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the health of Kemp's Ridley Turtles have been studied to assess the spill's harm to natural resources and the services they provide. On June 28, 2012, several hundred people watched the release of 94 sea turtle hatchlings at the Padre Island National Seashore. Following the release, researchers tested the eggs that did not hatch for oil exposure... Read More

Leatherback sea turtle surfaces
Teacher at Sea Shows Us the Science Behind Leatherback Sea Turtles

November 26, 2012 (Allex Eilers, TAS)
Are you crazy about sea turtles? NOAA Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers is, especially the leatherback. Eilers is an educator at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and she had an opportunity to sail on the NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan where she helped scientists conduct leatherback turtle research in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California... Read More

Graph of ocean temperature for sea turtle watch
TurtleWatch Research Aims to Reduce Bycatch of Sea Turtles

June 2011 (PIFSC)
The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center launched TurtleWatch in December 2006 after turtle-fishing gear interactions exceeded federal limits. TurtleWatch is an online map of oceanic temperatures in the fishing grounds of the Hawaii-based longline fishery. Posted daily, TurtleWatch enables fishermen to avoid ocean areas where their fishing gear is most likely to interact with protected loggerhead sea turtles... Read More