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  1. Sea turtle, any of seven species of marine turtles belonging to the families Dermochelyidae (leatherback sea turtles) and Cheloniidae (green turtles, flatback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, hawksbills, and ridleys).
  2. Turtles Turtles are aquatic or terrestrial reptiles that have horny toothless jaws and a bony or leathery shell into which the head, limbs, and tail can be withdrawn in most species. They have dry scaly skin and enjoy basking in the sun. All species of turtles lay eggs.

For example, box turtles can live longer than 100 years. Yet, because turtle eggs and juvenile turtles have so many predators and other survival difficulties, only a small percentage of turtles ever reach adulthood. The survival of adult turtles, which have been fortunate enough to surmount these obstacles, is very important. Turtles are the reptiles that carry their house around on their backs. In softshelled turtles, the shell is made of cartilage. In hard-shelled turtles, it is a bony extension from the ribs. We use the shape of the carapace (top shell) and the plastron (bottom shell) as one characteristic to distinguish species.

The leatherback turtle is the largest marine turtle and one of the largest living reptiles. Leatherbacks are one of the most migratory of all marine turtle species, making both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings. They are easily distinguished by their carapace, which is leathery, not hard as in other turtles, and by their long front flippers.
Leatherbacks have a unique system of blood supply to their bones and cartilage. This enables their body temperature to stay several degrees above the water temperature and allows them to tolerate cold water, rather like a mammal. They can dive to depths of up to 1,200m, much deeper than any other marine turtle.
Recent DNA analysis confirms that Atlantic and Pacific populations are genetically distinct lineages of a single species. In turn, nesting Pacific leatherback populations are separated into two genetically distinct populations (eastern and western populations).
The leatherback can reach up to 180cm, and 500kg in weight.
The species carapace (shell) is dark with white spots.
Life Cycle
Juvenile leatherbacks may remain in tropical waters warmer than 26°C, near the coast, until they exceed 100cm in curved carapace length. Adults are pelagic and live in the open ocean, sometimes in temperatures below 10°C.
Female leatherbacks may lay 4 to 5 times per season, each time depositing 60 to 120 eggs. Leatherbacks appear to nest once every two or three years with an incubation period of approximately 60 days.
The large size of leatherbacks is all the more remarkable given their low energy, low protein diet of soft-bodied creatures such as jellyfish, squid and tunicates ('jelly fish-like' marine invertebrates).
Previous Population and Distribution
The global population for this species was estimated to be 115,000 adult females in 1982. By 1996 this had been revised down to about 30-40,000. Leatherback populations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans have undergone dramatic declines in the past forty years. For example, the nesting colony at Terengganu, Malaysia went from more than 3,000 females in 1968, to 20 in 1993, to just 2 in 1993 - there are no signs of recovery.
Similar scenarios have occurred in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Mexico. Numbers of females recorded at four formerly major Pacific rookeries have declined to about 250 in Mexico, 117 in Costa Rica, two in Malaysia, and fewer than 550 in Indonesia.
Current Population and Distribution
Leatherbacks have been recorded as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
The Pacific may now have as few as 2,300 adult females.
Effective Protection
However, not all leatherback populations have declined: in southern Africa, three decades of strong protection have increased the small annual nesting population more than fourfold. Recent reports mention that west Africa has an important population with around 10,400 nests per season, but the total area occupied for the leatherbacks is not well known and there is no available historical information on nesting trends of this population.
The most important nesting beaches now remaining in the Atlantic are found in Suriname, French Guiana, and Gabon. In the Pacific, the few remaining important beaches are in Indonesia, Mexico and Costa Rica, with other rookeries found in Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala.

From leatherbacks to loggerheads, six of the seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered at the hand of humans. Sadly, the fact is that they face many dangers as they travel the seas — including accidental capture and entanglement in fishing gear (also known as bycatch), the loss of nesting and feeding sites to coastal development, poaching, and ocean pollution including plastic.

These creatures are well-adapted to the ocean though they require air to survive. Their size varies greatly, depending upon species — from the small Kemp’s ridley, which weighs between 80–100 pounds, to the enormous leatherback, which can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

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5 facts About Sea Turtles

  • All seven species are considered threatened or endangered. Two are critically endangered (hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley), one is endangered (green and and three are threatened (leatherback, olive ridley, and loggerhead). Flatbacks are listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List but are listed as endangered in Australia.

  • It is estimated that only one out of 1,000 hatchlings survives to be an adult. They have many natural predators including birds, crabs, fish, and mammals like racoons. But the female adults can lay thousands of eggs over their lifetimes, so at least a few of them survive to maintain the species.

  • The sex of sea turtles, like other reptiles, depends on the temperature in the nest. That temperature is generally around 82 degrees F (29 degrees C) though that can vary by species and location.

  • Sea turtles don’t have a favorite food (though most will eat jellyfish.) Each species focuses on different prey for food; the leatherback eats mostly jellyfish, greens primarily eat seagrass, loggerheads prefer crustaceans, and hawksbills eat primarily sea sponges.

  • Some sea turtles migrate very long distances while others stay close to home. Leatherbacks and loggerheads can travel thousands of miles each year, while greens and olive ridleys have shorter migrations, while hawksbills rarely leave a relatively small area.

Habitat & Diet

Sea turtles live in almost every ocean basin throughout the world, nesting on tropical and subtropical beaches. They migrate long distances to feed, often crossing entire oceans. Some loggerheads nest in Japan and migrate to Baja California Sur, Mexico to forage before returning home again. Leatherbacks are capable of withstanding the coldest water temperatures (often below 40˚F) and are found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska.


These reptiles spend their entire lives at sea, except when adult females come ashore to lay eggs several times per season every 2 to 5 years. After about sixty days, baby sea turtles (known as 'hatchlings') emerge from their sandy nests and make their way to the ocean —attracted to the distant horizon. The juvenile turtles spend their first few years in the open oceans, eventually moving to protected bays, estuaries, and other nearshore waters as adults.

Each species relies on a different diet: greens eat sea grasses; leatherbacks feed on jellyfish and soft-bodied animals; loggerheads eat heavy-shelled animals such as crabs and clams; hawksbills rely on sponges and other invertebrates; and the Kemp’s ridley prefers crabs. Learn more about their diets.

Human Threats

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These ancient creatures have been on Earth for more than 100 million years — even surviving the dinosaurs when they became extinct 65 million years ago. Among the threats these marine reptiles face are entanglement, habitat loss, and consumption of their eggs and meat.

Types Of Turtles

Sea turtles often drown when caught in fishing gear. Coastal development can destroy important nesting sites, impact coral reefs, and artificial light from houses and other buildings attracts hatchlings away from the ocean. Pollution like plastic bags are often mistaken for food such as jellyfish and ingested, which blocks their intestines and potentially kills them. In some countries, they are hunted for their meat and shells and their eggs are eaten.

Sea Turtle Information:

  • Turtle Life Cycle

What is SEE Turtles?

We're a non-profit organization that protects sea turtles through conservation travel and volunteer tours, educational programs, and Billion Baby Turtles. Our award-winning programs help save sea turtle hatchlings on important nesting beaches around the world, work with the tourism industry to end the turtleshell trade, and educate students and travelers about how to help save sea turtles.

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Photo credits: Brad Nahill/SEE Turtles, JuanMa Gonzales, Neil Ever Osborne