General Sea Turtle Information
Sea turtles are among the largest living reptiles. They have scales and a bony shell, are cold-blooded, breathe air, and lay their eggs on land. Sea turtles are long-lived, although scientists are uncertain how long they live because there is no known way to determine their age. Unlike the land turtles from which they evolved, sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the sea. They glide gracefully through the water with flipper-like forelimbs and a streamlined shell. Sea turtles frequently come to the surface to breathe when active, but they can remain underwater for several hours when resting.
Of the six sea turtle species that are found in U.S. waters or that nest on U.S. beaches, all are designated as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Endangered status means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range; threatened means it is likely to become endangered.
Sea turtles are highly migratory and utilize the waters of more than one country in their lifetimes. Thus, sea turtles are shared resources among many nations. Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, and Hawksbill sea turtles regularly nest on beaches within the U.S. and all depend upon U.S. coastal waters for foraging and migratory habitat during certain stages of their life history. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, which occasionally nests in the U.S., is dependent on the shallow coastal habitats of the U.S. east coast and the Gulf of Mexico for foraging and developmental habitat. However, all of these species migrate outside U.S. boundaries during their lifetimes. In addition, the Olive Ridley sea turtle does not nest in the U.S., but during feeding migrations, Olive Ridley turtles nesting in the Pacific may disperse into waters of the southwestern U.S., occasionally as far north as Oregon. Because sea turtles are shared resources, conservation efforts for turtle populations in one country may be jeopardized by activities in another country. Protecting sea turtles on U.S. nesting beaches and in U.S. waters therefore is not sufficient alone to ensure the continued existence of these species. Cooperation among nations is critical to ensure the survival of sea turtles.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service share Federal jurisdiction for sea turtles with the Fish and Wildlife Service having lead responsibility on the nesting beaches and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the marine environment. Federal responsibilities and programs include development and implementation of recovery plans, land acquisition, cooperative programs with States, consultation with other federal agencies on projects they fund, permit, or conduct; international cooperation; promulgation of regulations to reduce take; permitting of activities for research or education involving take; and development of habitat conservation plans.
For more information on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s sea/marine turtle program, write to:
National Sea Turtle Coordinator
Program Officer, Marine Turtle Conservation Fund
Comment period closes on Service's draft economic analysis for Coastal Beach Critical Habitat