Sea Turtles

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The Key West NWR is home to four species of sea turtles - the green, loggerhead, hawksbill and Kemp's Ridley.


The Key West National Wildlife Refuge contains vital feeding, breeding areas, and nesting beaches for both green and loggerhead sea turtles. A few hawksbill turtles nest here too. All three species and the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle forage in the waters of the Key West NWR. Sea turtles can often be seen warming themselves at the surface in the early morning or when periodically coming up for air. Although usually quick to react, these animals are easily overlooked by unaware boaters travelling at excessive speeds. Visitors to the refuge should always be on the lookout for turtles, especially when traveling over shallow seagrass beds and patchy reefs. The turtles build their nests from late May to August on the few remaining beaches, returning every two weeks throughout the season to lay another clutch of eggs. The eggs hatch approximately two months later, with the newly emerged turtles digging through as much as two feet of sand before making the perilous trek to the open ocean. Some of these beach nesting areas have been altered by severe storms and sea level rise, causing erosion of the shorelines and creating steep cliffs that make nesting along those stretches of shoreline impossible. Beaches available to turtles are highly susceptible to disturbance by people and pets and that is why stretches of beach in the refuge are closed to public access.