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NOAA Fisheries
Office of Protected Resources
Acropora palmata thicket on Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Andy Bruckner, 1996Coho salmon painting, Canadian Dept of Fisheries and OceansMonk seal, C.E. BowlbyHumpback whale, Dr. Lou Herman
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Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Species | Recovery Plans | Threats | Conservation & Management | Bycatch | Permits | Five-Year Reviews | Regulations | Symposia | Publications | Strategy for Conservation & Recovery | Photos | Satellite Tracking This link is an external site. | More Info

 

"For most of the wild things on Earth, the future must depend upon the conscience of mankind."

- Dr. Archie Carr, father of modern marine turtle biology and conservation

What's New?


green turtle underwater
Green Turtle
(Chelonia mydas)
Photo: Andy Bruckner, NOAA


After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Dr. Brian Stacy, a NOAA veterinarian, cleans a young Kemp's ridley turtle aboard vessel before the captured turtles were taken to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans for rehabilitation. (photo courtesy NOAA, Florida FWCC)
Dr. Brian Stacy, NOAA veterinarian, cleans a young Kemp's ridley turtle
Photo: NOAA/FWCC

· Sea Turtles, Dolphins, and Whales and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

· Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

 

Overview
Sea turtles, also called "marine turtles," are air-breathing reptiles with streamlined bodies and large flippers. They are well-adapted to life in the marine environment. They inhabit tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world.

Of the 7 species of sea turtles, 6 are found in U.S. waters: green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The 7th species, the flatback sea turtle This link is an external site., is found only in Australia.

Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to beaches on land to lay their eggs. They often migrate long distances between foraging grounds and nesting beaches.

Status of Sea Turtles
All sea turtles occurring in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are under the joint jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are also listed in CITES Appendix I

Green turtles and olive ridley turtles have breeding populations that were listed separately under the ESA, and therefore, have more than one ESA status.

(E = "endangered"; T = "threatened"; F = "foreign")

Species (16 listed "species") Status
  • Florida & Mexico's Pacific coast breeding colonies
E
  • all other areas
T
E
E
E
  • Mediterranean Sea
E (F)
  • North Indian Ocean
E (F)
  • North Pacific Ocean
E
  • Northeast Atlantic Ocean
E (F)
  • Northwest Atlantic Ocean
T
  • South Atlantic Ocean
T (F)
  • South Pacific Ocean
E (F)
  • Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean
T (F)
  • Southwest Indian Ocean
T (F)
  • Mexico's Pacific coast breeding colonies
E
  • all other areas
T

*Note: These populations were listed before the 1978 ESA amendments that restricted population listings to "distinct population segments" of vertebrate species.

Sea Turtle Conservation and Management
All six species of sea turtles occurring in the U.S. are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1977, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding [pdf] to jointly administer the Endangered Species Act with respect to sea turtles. NOAA Fisheries has the lead responsibility for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment and USFWS has the lead for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles on nesting beaches.

Threats
Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: destruction and alteration of nesting and foraging habitats; incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries; entanglement in marine debris; and vessel strikes. To reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA Fisheries has enacted regulations to restrict certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that have known, significant bycatch of sea turtles. To effectively address all threats to sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed recovery plans to direct research and management efforts for each sea turtle species. More information on threats to sea turtles is available.

International Conservation
The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires multi-lateral cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals. NOAA Fisheries has a broad national and international program for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles. The Office of Protected Resources works closely with 2 international environmental agreements that deal exclusively with sea turtle conservation:

The goal of the international component of the sea turtle program is to facilitate the global conservation and recovery of sea turtles by working closely with other nations through diplomatic channels, capacity building, and scientific exchange. The Office of Protected Resources also coordinates closely with our Regional Office staff and Science Center staff who are involved in international activities related to sea turtle research and management.

More Information

Updated: January 8, 2014

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