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A Tech Incubator for Sea Turtles

View slideshow A loggerhead sea turtle at its temporary home at NOAA's Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, Texas. Credit: Rich Press/NOAA turtlefarm02.jpg turtlefarm03.jpg turtlefarm04.jpg turtlefarm06.jpg turtlefarm05.jpg


Additional Information

Learn more about Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs.

The Keratin Connection: A Breakthrough in Sea Turtle Research

See video of sea turtles being released after completing their tour of duty, on the website of Florida Today.


NOAA raises a small army of sea turtles in Texas to save wild sea turtles everywhere.

Every summer, biologist Ben Higgins picks up about 200 newly hatched loggerhead sea turtles from a beach in Florida and drives them back to the NOAA Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, Texas. That group of 200 is a small fraction of the wild sea turtles that hatch each year, but they're making a big contribution to the survival of their species and others like them.

Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and Kemp’s ridleys are listed as endangered. For both species, commercial shrimp nets are a major threat to survival.

That threat is much diminished today thanks to Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs. TEDs are gates that retain shrimp in the net but allow air breathing sea turtles to escape before they drown. NOAA Fisheries is a world leader in developing TED technology and sharing it with other nations.

TEDs are legally required in certain shrimp trawl fisheries in the United States, and foreign fishing fleets must also use them if they want to sell trawl-caught shrimp here. Thanks to these requirements, sea turtle populations have a better shot at survival in many parts of the world. At Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, for instance, there were 702 known Kemp’s ridley nests in 1985. Today, thanks in large part to the use of TEDs, there are more than 15,000.

TED technology is made possible by the hatchlings that Ben Higgins brings back to the Turtle Facility each summer. Once they arrive at what workers affectionately call the Turtle Barn, each gets its own climate-controlled tank and is fed a specially formulated diet.

"Sea turtle husbandry is all about decent food and clean water," said Higgins. “Give them those, and they'll grow like weeds."

The NOAA Sea Turtle Facility is the only one of its kind in the world. Although there are captive rearing facilities elsewhere, no other facility raises sea turtles on nearly the same scale and for scientific research.

After about two years, when the turtles reach 30 cm in length, scientists run them through TEDs to test the effectiveness of new designs. No turtles are harmed in the testing, and after they complete their duties, they're released into the wild.

"We love and pamper them for two years," said Higgins, "then they give us five minutes worth of work, and we set them free."