Protecting Sea Turtles

When you visit our aquarium you will notice we have a sea turtle conservation tour. In this tour we introduce you to our turtles that have been rescued and are now living with us because they wouldn’t survive out at sea. Dry Tortugas National Park is the most active turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys. Park biologists have been monitoring sea turtle nesting activity within park boundaries since 1980.

Biologists find sea turtle nests by looking for a characteristically shaped mound of sand on the beach. Each nest is marked and recorded and then checked for signs of hatchlings beginning about 45 days later. Although incubation takes about 60 days, the temperature of the sand determines the speed of embryo development, so the hatching period can cover a broad period of time. The speed of embryo development increases with increasing nest temperature. Cooler nests generally produce more males, and warmer nests generally produce more females. Sea turtle eggs are about the size and shape of a ping pong ball. After the eggs have hatched, biologists excavate the nest and record the number of hatched and unhatched eggs, live and dead turtles, and any observations such as signs of predation on the nest or indications of arrested development.

Natural threats to both young and adult sea turtles alike are abundant, but it is the increasing human threats that are driving sea turtles to extinction. Today, all sea turtles found in United States waters are federally listed as endangered except for the loggerhead, which is listed as threatened.

Please Remember that it is Illegal to Disturb
Sea Turtles and Sea Turtle Nests!

sea turtles regulations

To report someone disturbing a sea turtle nest or an injured, dead or harassed sea turtle – Call: 888-404-FWCC (3922) Cellular phone *FWC or #FWC

Loggerhead Sea Turtle: Head is very large with heavy strong jaws. Carapace is bony without ridges and has large, non-overlapping, rough scutes (scales) present with 5 lateral scute. Carapace is heart shaped. Front flippers are short and thick with 2 claws, while the rear flippers can have 2 or 3 claws. Carapace is a reddish-brown with a yellowish-brown plastron. Hatchlings have a dark-brown carapace with flippers pale brown on margins. Primarily carnivorous and feed mostly on shellfish that live on the bottom of the ocean. They eat horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates. Their powerful jaw muscles help them to easily crush the shellfish.

loggerhead sea turtle on a beach

Green Sea Turtle: The green sea turtle grows to a maximum size of about 4 feet and a weight of 440 pounds. It has a heart-shaped shell, small head, and single-clawed flippers. Color is variable. Hatchlings generally have a black carapace, white plastron, and white margins on the shell and limbs. The adult carapace is smooth, keelless, and light to dark brown with dark mottling; the plastron is whitish to light yellow. Adult heads are light brown with yellow markings. Identifying characteristics include four pairs of costal scutes, none of which borders the nuchal scute, and only one pair of prefrontal scales between the eyes. Hatchling green turtles eat a variety of plants and animals, but adults feed almost exclusively on seagrasses and marine algae.

green sea turtle

Leatherback Sea Turtle: The leatherback is the largest, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles.  The adult leatherback can reach 4 to 8 feet in length and 500 to 2000 pounds in weight.  Its shell is composed of a mosaic of small bones covered by firm, rubbery skin with seven longitudinal ridges or keels.  The skin is predominantly black with varying degrees of pale spotting; including a notable pink spot on the dorsal surface of the head in adults.  A toothlike cusp is located on each side of the gray upper jaw; the lower jaw is hooked anteriorly.  The paddle-like clawless limbs are black with white margins and pale spotting.  Hatchlings are predominantly black with white flipper margins and keels on the carapace.  Jellyfish are the main staple of its diet, but it is also known to feed on sea urchins, squid, crustaceans, tunicates, fish, blue-green algae, and floating seaweed.

leatherback turtle on the beach

Hawksbill Sea Turtle: The hawksbill is a small to medium-sized marine turtle having an elongated oval shell with overlapping scutes on the carapace, a relatively small head with a distinctive hawk-like beak, and flippers with two claws. General coloration is brown with numerous splashes of yellow, orange, or reddish-brown on the carapace. The plastron is yellowish with black spots on the intergular and postanal scutes. Juveniles are black or very dark brown with light brown or yellow coloration on the edge of the shell, limbs, and raised ridges of the carapace. As an adult, the hawksbill may reach up to 3 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds, although adults more commonly average about 2½ feet in length and typically weigh around 176 pounds or less. It is the only sea turtle with a combination of two pairs of prefrontal scales on the head and four pairs of costal scutes on the carapace. The hawksbill feeds primarily on sponges and is most often associated with the coral reef community.

sea turtle underwater at key west aquarium

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle: The Kemp’s Ridley has a triangular-shaped head with a slightly hooked beak with large crushing surfaces. Hatchlings are black on both sides. In adults, the almost circular carapace has a grayish green color while the plastron (bottom shell) is pale yellow to cream in color. The carapace is often as wide as it is long and contains 5 pairs of costal scutes. Each of the front flippers has one claw while the back flippers may have one or two. Their diet consists mainly of swimming crabs, but may also include fish, jellyfish, and an array of mollusks. Foraging zones range from the Yucatán Peninsula to southern Florida.

Baby Kemps Ridley sea turtle on the sand

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