What You Can Do to Help Sea Turtles

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Credit: USFWS

All six sea turtle species that are found in U.S. waters or that nest on U.S. beaches, 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. While these animals may be at risk, there are things we can do to help them as we continue to live with them along the coasts.

A green sea turtle is spotting early in the morning on Cape Hatteras National Seashore/National Park Service

What To Do if You Come Across a Sea Turtle

If you encounter a turtle on the beach at night that is trying to nest, remain quiet, stay still and keep your distance. Flash photography and human disturbance may prevent her from nesting successfully.

If you see a sea turtle that seems disoriented contact law enforcement.

Reduce Lighting and Disturbance

■ Use your natural vision and moonlight when walking on the beach at night.

■ Minimize beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season (usually spring to summer, depending on the area) by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights away from the beach.

■ Close blinds and draperies in oceanfront rooms at night to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach.

■ Remove recreational equipment, such as lounge chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and boats, from the beach at night. These items can deter nesting attempts and prevent hatchlings from reaching the ocean.

■ Do not to construct beach campfires during nesting season. Sea turtle hatchlings are attracted to the light and may crawl into fires and die.

Help Protect Vegetation and Habitat

■ Avoid trampling beach vegetation. Use boardwalks when available instead of walking over dunes. Natural vegetation stabilizes sand and reduces beach erosion.

■ Please cover back up any holes you dig on the beach.

Photo: Loggerhead Sea Turtle Tracks by Keenan Adams/USFWS

■ Leave the tracks left by turtles undisturbed. Researchers use the tracks to identify the species of turtle that nested and to find and mark the nests for protection. If you encounter a sea turtle nest or hatchlings, leave the eggs and baby turtles alone. If they seem disoriented, please contact local law enforcement.

■ When boating, stay alert and avoid sea turtles. Propeller and collision impacts from boats and ships can result in injury and death of sea turtles. Also, stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage.

■ Avoid anchoring boats in seagrass beds and coral reefs which serve as important feeding and resting habitats for sea turtles.

Plastic and Balloons Harm Turtles

■ Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, styrofoam, and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines.

■ Celebrate events without the use of helium balloon releases. Like plastic trash, balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die.

We truly appreciate you doing your part in helping sea turtles!

Becky Skiba, USFWS

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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