Sea turtles

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Learn about sea turtles, conservation and how you can help protect them.

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About sea turtles

Canadian waters are home to several species of sea turtle, including:

They live in a variety of habitats, including:

  • deep ocean
  • coastal waters
  • sandy beaches

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

Sea turtles have large front flippers that make them strong swimmers and allow them to move along beaches.

Most have a hard shell (carapace), except for the leatherback sea turtle. Leatherbacks have a softer shell made up of small, bony plates covered by a layer of oil-saturated fat and a leathery skin. Unlike freshwater turtles and tortoises, sea turtles can’t pull their limbs and head inside their shell for protection.

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.

A loggerhead turtle swimming in a tank as part of a 2015 tagging project with North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

A loggerhead turtle swimming in a tank as part of a 2015 tagging project with North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

Sea Turtle.

Sea Turtle.

Eggs and young

Female turtles return to the same tropical or subtropical beach where they were born to deposit their eggs. They dig nests, lay their eggs and bury them.

After a period of incubation, baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs and quickly leave the nest to make their way to the ocean.

Young turtles spend their first years floating in offshore beds of seaweed that follow large ocean currents.

When turtles are around 22 to 30 centimetres across, they begin to visit coastal feeding areas. It takes about 15 to 20 years for a sea turtle to reach reproductive maturity. We don’t know the exact life expectancy of sea turtles, but some species can live to reach 100 years or older.

Conservation

Sea turtles are of global conservation concern. Several populations are in a state of decline. Sea turtles are threatened by human activities, such as:

  • pollution
  • poaching
  • entanglement
  • coastal development
  • fisheries bycatch (being caught accidentally when fishing for another species)

In Canada, the species at risk list of endangered sea turtles includes:

  • the loggerhead
  • both the Pacific and Atlantic leatherback

How you can help

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 6-pack rings from soda cans or packing straps. This causes injuries and makes it hard for them to swim or feed.

You can reduce plastic waste and help sea turtles by:

  • using reusable shopping bags
  • recycling plastic whenever possible
  • drinking from refillable water bottles
  • packing your lunch in reusable containers
  • refusing single-use plastics, like straws and bags
  • disposing garbage in proper trash containers, as garbage litter can be carried by wind and water to the ocean

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