North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

General Sea Turtle Information


Loggerhead sea turtle nesting on the beach at sunrise.  Photo courtesy Blair Witherington.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
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200
Jacksonville, Florida 32256
Telephone: (904) 731-3336
Fax: (904) 731-3045
Email: seaturtle @ fws.gov

Program Officer, Marine Turtle Conservation Fund
Division of International Conservation
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS100
Arlington, VA 22203
Phone: (703) 358-2277
Fax: (703) 358-2115


Current Initiatives


Comment period closes on Service's draft economic analysis for Coastal Beach Critical Habitat
previously proposed for the Recovery of Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is releasing the estimated cost and economic impacts of its proposal to designate terrestrial critical habitat for the Northwest Atlantic population of loggerhead sea turtles in coastal areas of six southeastern U.S. states.

The draft economic analysis considered the potential impact of the designation on various sectors of the economy.  On average, of the potential annual $150,000 costs associated with the designation, 46% would be borne by the Service, 38% by other Federal Agency costs, and the remaining 16% to the project proponents.  These proponents could include counties doing beach nourishment projects, or private or corporate applicants doing some type of beach construction.

In association with the Notice of Availability, which published in the Federal Register July 18, 2013, the Service also held three public hearings: August 6 in Charleston, SC; August 7 in Wilmington, NC and August 8 in Morehead City, NC. Transcripts for those hearings are available on this site, as well as  http://www.regulations.gov - public comments for docket # FWS-ES-2012-0103.

The public comment period closed September 16, 2013. All comments and supporting information submitted are available at http://www.regulations.gov [Docket # FWS-ES-2012-0103].

News Release

Federal Register Notice of Availability for Draft Economic Analysis - PDF version - 238KB

Draft Economic Analysis Report - PDF - 1.8MB

Direct link to submit comments via regulations.gov

Transcript from Charleston, SC Public Hearing held 8/6/2013 - PDF - 585KB

Transcript from Wilmington, NC Public Hearing held 8/7/2013 - PDF - 115KB

Transcript from Morehead City, NC Public Hearing held 8/8/2013 - PDF - 205KB New item icon

Questions and Answers on the Draft Economic Analysis

Map of Proposed Terrestrial Critical Habitat for Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles - PDF - 861KB

Map of existing Piping Plover Critical Habitat overlayed by Proposed Terrestrial Critical Habitat for Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles - PDF - 613KB

Map of existing Federally Listed Species Critical Habitat overlayed by Proposed Terrestrial Critical Habitat for Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles - PDF - 950KB - Updated legend

UTM Coordinates for nesting beachs included in the proposed critical habitat notice - PDF - 212KB

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service proposal to designate marine critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles - separate proposal soliciting separate public comment, see NMFS page for details


2011 NOAA Fisheries Service and FWS finalize changes for Loggerhead sea turtle populations

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Last updated: November 19, 2013