There are five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico, two of which are critically endangered:
The Green Sea Turtle is found throughout the world's tropical oceans. It is the largest of the hard-shelled turtles, with an average size of 300 to 350 lbs. The head is small compared to its body size and its jaws have a characteristic serration, which enable it to forage on sea grass and algae. Foraging turtles are important to the health of sea grass beds, which are developmental habitats for a large number of fish species.
The Atlantic green sea turtle has important nesting and foraging grounds on the Atlantic coasts of Costa Rica and throughout the Caribbean and Florida.
This turtle gets its name from the green coloration of its muscles. The Pacific green sea turtles or black turtles are genetically similar to the Atlantic green sea turtle, however, their coloration is darker and they are smaller than the Atlantic green sea turtle.
Although sea turtles naturally fall victim to Fibropapillomatosis, the primary threats are caused by humans, including boat accidents, trash or fishing hook ingestion and loss of nesting habitats.
The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is found in nearly every ocean of the world. They are typically found in temperate or tropical regions, nesting farther from the equator than any other species. The Loggerhead is large, reddish-brown and 200 to 300 lbs. in weight. Male loggerheads, as with all species of sea turtle, have a tail that extends nearly a foot past their shell.
The Loggerhead is distinguished from other sea turtles by having a teardrop-shaped shell or "carapace". The name loggerhead is derived from the turtle's large head and jaws, which it uses to crush its favorite food items: crabs, clams and conchs. It is the only species of turtle to nest exclusively at night.
The Atlantic Loggerhead is found in great numbers feeding along the inshore and coastal water of the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys and along the eastern seaboard as far north as New England. They are also found in the open water of the Mediterranean, along the west coast of Africa, in the Caribbean and along the coasts of Central and South America.
Nesting by the Atlantic Loggerhead is highest on beaches of the southeastern United States, with close to 90% of that nesting occurring in Florida. Important nesting of the Loggerhead also occurs in the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Turkey and Israel.
The Pacific Loggerhead is found in the temperate waters of both the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Like the Atlantic Loggerhead, it is found feeding in coastal, near-shore areas along the western coasts of the Americas, around Australia, and in the Middle East. The dividing line between the two sub-species of the loggerhead appears to be South America.
The primary threats to the loggerhead are loss of nesting habitat to beachfront development and associated artificial lighting, shrimping, long line fisheries, entanglements, pollution and being hit by boats.
Hawksbill Sea Turtles are small sea turtles, ranging in size from 100 to 120 lbs. Unlike other species of sea turtle, they do not travel great distances between feeding and nesting areas. They are found in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Nesting occurs on small islands adjacent to feeding grounds, which are typically associated with coral reefs.
Hawksbills get their name from their bird-like jaw, which they use to probe the crevices of coral reefs in search of their favorite food, sponges. They are endangered because their scutes are a primary source of tortoiseshell, used in the manufacture of jewelry and other ornamental items.
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles are the smallest of all the sea turtles, ranging in size from 80 to 120 lbs. They are primarily confined to the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of the United States, as far north as New England. Adults are found in the Gulf of Mexico, feeding on the productive coastal waters from Texas to Florida. Juveniles can also be found there, but many travel north along the eastern seaboard of the United States. The primary nesting ground is Rancho Nuevo, on Mexico's east coast. These are fast-swimming turtles that feed primarily on crabs. The carapace is what distinguishes them from other species of sea turtles by its circular shape.
The Kemp's Ridley and Olive Ridley sea turtles are the only two species of sea turtle to nest in large groups all at once. This mass nesting is called an arribada. In the Kemp's Ridley, these arribadas are no longer seen, due to the severe reduction in this species' population size. These are the most endangered species of sea turtle. Because of their daytime mass nesting, populations of females and their eggs have been nearly wiped out by poachers in only a few decades.
Leatherback Sea Turtles are found throughout the world in all oceans, as far north as Alaska. Leatherback nesting occurs primarily in tropical locations such as New Guinea, Indonesia, Central America and Costa Rica but also includes the East coast of Florida.
The leatherback is the largest species of sea turtle, with an average weight of 1300 lbs. Its name derives from the turtle's leathery shell. In addition to being soft, it has seven longitudinal ridges. Male loggerheads, as with all species of sea turtle, have a tail that extends past their shell. These enable the turtle to adapt to deep diving and constant swimming.
Leatherbacks are able to tolerate colder temperatures better than other species by using their large size to generate heat. They deposit more clutches, eggs laid in one nest, per individual than other species of sea turtle - between 50 and 120 eggs per clutch. A large number of these eggs are infertile, but it is not known why female leatherbacks lay these infertile eggs.
Leatherbacks are critically endangered, especially in the Pacific Ocean where the long line fisheries for swordfish and tuna entangle and kill thousands of migrating Leatherbacks each year. However, Leatherback nesting is on the increase in Florida with an average of 50 nests laid on Florida's east coast each year.
Our resident turtles: