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Home > Management Info > TEDs & BRDs > TEDs > Sea Turtle FAQ's

Management Information: TEDs

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sea Turtles

Q1: Why should turtles be excluded from trawl nets?
A1: All sea turtles that occur in U.S. waters are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Incidental capture of sea turtles in shrimp trawls has been a major factor in the decline of sea turtle populations. Shrimp trawling affects more sea turtles in the U.S. than any other human activity.

Q2: Why is the focus on protecting turtles in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters?
A2: Florida’s beaches (bordering both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico) support the largest nesting aggregations of loggerhead, leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles in the southeast U.S. Florida’s waters also provide important feeding habitats for large numbers of juvenile and adult sea turtles. Small sea turtles such as the olive ridley and Kemp’s ridley nest along the Mexican Gulf of Mexico coastline and live in Gulf of Mexico waters. Only about 1 in 1,000 sea turtles survive to maturity. More than 90 percent of turtle hatchlings are eaten by predators. To learn more about protecting sea turtles, visit http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR3/turtles/turtles.html.

Q3: How large are sea turtles?
A3: Sea turtles vary in size. The leatherback can grow up to about 6 feet in length and weigh up to 1,100 pounds. The smaller olive ridley and Kemp’s ridley turtles may grow to 30 inches and weigh up to 110 pounds. Sea turtles also vary is appearance. To learn more about the appearance of sea turtles, download Sea Turtles in Louisiana’s Coastal Waters (2.42MB pdf file) by Fuller, Tappan, and Hester and Appendix A (1.40MB PDF file) of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Fishery Management Plan for the Shrimp Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico, United States Waters.

Q4: Why can’t turtles swim along and be emptied when the trawl net is pulled up?
A4: When turtles are active, they need to return to the water’s surface every few minutes in order to breathe. Trawl nets drag along and near the bottom rather than surface of the water, for periods of 30 minutes or more. When resting or sleeping, turtles can remain under water without breathing for about two hours, however, most turtles are actively swimming when they are scooped up into trawl nets.

Q5: Have critical habitats been designated for all sea turtles?
A5: Critical habitat means the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species on which are found those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and which may require special management considerations or protection and specific areas outside of that geographical area essential for the conservation of the species. In September 1998, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated critical habitat for green sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions to include waters surrounding Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, and for hawksbill sea turtle, coastal waters surrounding Mona and Monito Islands, Puerto Rico. Critical habitat was also established for the leatherback turtle, generally including waters adjacent to Sandy Point, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. This species ranges along the entire Atlantic coastline. They also live in the Pacific. Loggerhead turtles also ranged along the Atlantic coastline. In January 2002, a petition to designate critical habitat for the loggerhead turtle was considered by NMFS. For more information on critical habitats for sea turtles, visit http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/pr98/sep98/nr98-055.html and http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/species/ESA_species.html

Image: Diagrams of 4 species of turtles
Illustrations provided by IUCN/SSC Marine Special Group's Sea Turtle Indentification Key.

For more information about the different species of turtles, download the Sea Turtle Identification Key (726KB PDF file) provided by IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group.

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