Threats to Sea Turtles

Leatherback bycatch in Argentina-

Leatherback caught in shrimp trawling net off Argentina. Fisherman attends the turtle until it can be tagged and released.
Photo: Ignacio Matias-Bruno of

By-Catch: Marine life caught unintentionally in various types of fishing practices: shrimp trawling, long-line (for swordfish, tuna, sharks, and mahi mahi), gill-nets — banned, but used illegally in some areas of the world or by small-time fishermen. Even sport fishermen can end up hooking turtles. 

“Commercial Fishing Estimated to Kill Millions of Sea Turtles” (April 2012)
Peer-reviewed compilation of scientific and government studies 1998-2008.


Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) on shrimp trawlers allow turtles to escape. Mandatory in U.S. and many other countries. Must be used, and used correctly, to be effective. They don’t eliminate by-catch issues of many other species.

NOAA video --------------->

454 TED SeaTurtleInc-KPye

Turtle Excluder Device (TED)
Demo at Sea Turtle,Inc
South Padre Island, TX
Photo: Katy Pye

Controlling timing and location where fishing is allowed (during breeding season and in areas where turtles come together to mate, for example) can reduce the numbers of turtles killed.

Discarded or lost fishing equipment

Sport fisherman must know the proper gear to use and methods and regulations on handling an accidentally hooked turtle.

CC-hooked green-Ignacio García-Godos

A Green sea turtle hooked by a fisherman
photo: Ignacio Garcia-Godos, Peruvian Centre for Cetacean Research.

Green caught in net-Alejandro Fallabrino

Green sea turtle wrapped up in netting
photo Alejandro Fallabrino of Karumbe, UY


Never throw gear away in or near any water bodies. Pick up others’ trash fishing line, netting, rope, or anything else that might accidentally snare an animal or bird.

Plastics and balloons: Plastics are a huge and growing problem in the ocean as turtles and other marine creatures mistake them for food.

Floating plastic bags look like jellyfish-some turtles’ favorite foods.
Photo: Rogerio Ferreira, Projecto UNIDA

 50% turtle 50% plastic The  juvenile turtle below died from eating plastic. It’s not an isolated case, by far. These animals, sea birds, too, are not stupid, they can’t tell the difference by sight between our junk and their food. 


Reduce plastic use as much as you can, recycle, and support local community bans on plastic bags. Bring your own cloth ones.

50% turtle 50% plastic-

Photo: Alejandro Fallabrino of Karumbe, UY

Kemp's ridley juvenile from 65 NM west of Sarasota FL. The turtle had ingested the latex end of a toy balloon.

Photo: Blair Witherington, Florida FWC

No party for this Kemp’s ridley! That’s a ribbon still tied to a balloon this little guy swallowed off the Sarasota, FL coast. 

Never release balloons in the air, even inland. They float farther than you think. Wherever they land, they’re always garbage.

loggerhead boat strike victim

Loggerhead boat strike victim
Photo: Matthew Godfrey 

Boat strikes:  Driving too fast makes it hard to see turtles swimming just below the surface or when they come up to breathe. Jet skis are quick fun but like boats, can be deadly for turtles, dolphins, and manatees.

 Solution: Slow down and watch.

Disease: Fibropapilloma tumors (pinkish blobs on neck, face, and behind front flipper of this turtle) appear on more and more turtles across oceans. The Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the most affected, but loggerheads, flatbacks, hawksbill, olive ridleys, and leatherbacks are showing up with the disease, too.

Green with tumors-Andrew Danielson

Green Sea turtle with fibropapilloma tumors
photo: Andrew Danielson

Wart-like growths spread mainly on the skin, but can attack internal organs. The cause is a herpes virus, but other links may be pollutants, such as improperly treated sewage released in the ocean water near shore. Not all turtles die from the disease, but there is no cure and research is ongoing. 

Poaching: Illegal (and some legally sanctioned) taking of endangered animals for food or profit happens on beaches and boats world-wide. 

R. Brittain-olive ridley killed for eggs

Guatamala: “The crewmen of shrimp trawlers harvest the eggs of female turtles caught in the trawl. However the eggs of this olive ridley were still developing.”
Photo: Rachael Brittain founding member Akazul

Hawksbill scutes for crafts Alejandro .Fallabrino

Hawksbill scutes harvested to make tourist items. Never buy anything made from sea turtle parts. It’s illegal and fosters more turtle deaths. Alejandro .Fallabrino, Karumbe

Guatemala-turtle oil for sale

Guatemala stall selling turtle oil made from bycatch animals
Photo: Rachel Brittain, Akazul

Cold-stunning: Turtles who migrate into colder waters, like the Atlantic, to feed sometimes don’t move back south quickly enough to avoid winter. If their body temperature drops too far, they float on the surface, unable to swim. Often they are washed ashore where they can freeze to death. Many areas have volunteers who walk the beaches hoping to rescue them. In Massachusetts the New England Aquarium in Boston and MA Audubon Society have partnered over 20 winters to recover and rehabilitate cold stunned turtles found on the state’s shoreline.

Water pollution: All types of contaminates affect sea turtles and their food supply. These range from sewage discharge, organics from fertilizers, oil and industrial chemicals.




Solution: Legislation, such as the Clean Water Act in the United States, is meant to ensure clean source and drinking waters. Oil development in U.S. waters is also regulated, but regulations are not always followed. Enforcement is more limited than the problems and solutions demand. Short-cuts to save industries money often short-cut the environment. People have to remain vigilant, encouraging and promoting politicians, agencies, and industries to do the right and legal thing.

Apathy: Cruise the Internet and you’ll find scads of people and organizations involved in sea turtle conservation, world-wide. It’s heart-warming, but it’s not enough. Don’t think someone else has got it all handled. 

Solutions: Some of the biggest threats to marine life (and ourselves and future generations) are ones we can individually do something about. But for any number of good or bad reasons, we don’t bother. Controlling our use of plastics would be a huge help, next to keeping stuff out of the water supply that shouldn’t be there, e.g. don’t flush toxic stuff or medicines. Everything has to go someplace, but the right place helps all of us.