Sea Turtles

To report a sea turtle disturbance or harassment

Please visit Report a Sighting or Incident.

Sea turtles belong to the taxonomic Class Reptilia.

Sea turtles have large fore flippers that make them strong swimmers and allow them to move along beaches. Unlike freshwater turtles and tortoises, sea turtles cannot pull their limbs and head inside their shell for protection. Sea turtles have a hard, bony shell, or carapace, except for the leatherback sea turtle, which has a softer carapace composed of a matrix of small bony plates covered by a layer of oil-saturated fat and a leathery skin. Sea turtles use a variety of habitats, including sandy beaches, coastal waters, and the deep ocean.

Female sea turtles dig nests and lay their eggs on tropical and subtropical beaches. After a period of incubation, hatchlings quickly make their way to the ocean upon emerging from the nest. It is believed that young turtles spend their first years floating in offshore beds of Sargassum seaweed that follow large ocean currents. When turtles reach the approximate size of a dinner plate they begin to appear in coastal feeding areas. In general, it takes 15 to 20 years for a sea turtle to reach reproductive maturity. The life expectancy of sea turtles is unknown but it is thought that some species can live to reach 100 years or more.

Four sea turtle species occur in Canadian waters:

These sea turtles migrate to temperate waters in the summer to feed.

Leatherback Sea Turtle swimming near the surface of the ocean. Credit: Canadian Sea Turtle Network.

Leatherback Sea Turtle swimming near the surface of the ocean
Credit: Canadian Sea Turtle Network.

The Loggerhead turtle swimming in the tank is a part of a 2015 tagging project with NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island

The Loggerhead turtle swimming in the tank is a part of a 2015 tagging project with NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island


Sea turtles are of global conservation concern. Several populations are in a state of decline. Anthropogenic threats to sea turtles include, but are not limited to:

  • Fisheries bycatch
  • Entanglement
  • Poaching
  • Pollution
  • Coastal development

In Canada, the Pacific and Atlantic populations of leatherback sea turtles are listed as Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. The loggerhead sea turtle is also listed as Endangered. For more information on the recovery of these species, please visit the SARA Registry.

Help protect sea turtles!

You can help protect sea turtles by using less plastic. Sea turtles may mistake plastic waste for food. They may also get tangled up in various kinds of plastic, such as six-pack rings from pop cans or packing straps, which may cause injuries or make it hard for them to swim or feed.

Ways you can help:

  • Refuse single-use plastics, like straws and bags
  • Remember your reusable shopping bags
  • Pack your lunch in reusable containers
  • Use refillable water bottles
  • Recycle plastic whenever possible
  • Never litter - garbage can be carried by wind and water to the ocean

Fast Fact

Female turtles return to the same beach where they were born to deposit their eggs.

Related information

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