Sea Turtles 101
Of the seven known species of sea turtles, six are found in waters off the coasts of the United States, Mexico and Canada: green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. (The seventh species, the flatback sea turtle, is only found in Australia.) At one time millions of sea turtles swam in our oceans but now all six of the species found in North American waters are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act and are included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Why They’re Important
Sea turtles have been around since the dinosaurs. They are a food source for many species and provide essential functions for marine and coastal environments. As just one example, on the coastal dune systems, the egg shells left over after sea turtles hatch become essential nutrients for dune vegetation. This, in turn, prevents the dunes from eroding so they continue to provide protection against storms and sea swells. As with all wildlife, protecting one species has a large ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.
About 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles will make it to adulthood. The biggest threats to sea turtles by far are related to human activities. These include: habitat loss due to coastal development and urbanization, disturbance from artificial lighting, capture in commercial fisheries, eating or getting entangled in marine debris, oil spills, human poaching and off-road vehicle use on beaches.
What Defenders is Doing to Help
Over the last decade, Defenders of Wildlife has been working tirelessly to protect sea turtle populations and the habitat they desperately depend on for survival. Our legal team has brought suits against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to protect turtles from fishing-related deaths and our Florida experts have fought to improve coastal lighting practices and prevent poorly planned coastal development and damaging shoreline armoring projects at some of the most important nesting beaches in Florida.