About Marine Turtles

There are seven species of marine turtle found today that developed from a single, unique group that separated from other turtle species over 100 million years ago. This group then split into two families, Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae, that represent all marine turtles in the world today. To learn more about marine turtle species, visit our species page.

Six of the seven marine turtle speciess are classified as threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Three species are considered Critically Endangered (hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley), two are considered Endangered (green, and loggerhead), one is considered Vulnerable (olive ridley), and the seventh (flatback) is listed as Data Deficient.

The status of marine turtle populations varies greatly on a global scale. Some populations are declining and in some cases near extinction, while others are stable or even increasing. There are five major hazards that endanger marine turtles today, as well as other less significant hazards; all are the result of human actions. The five major hazards are: fisheries impacts, direct take, coastal development, pollution and pathogens, and global warming.

Marine turtles are globally distributed and highly migratory, and regularly inhabit the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Aside from adult females which periodically come ashore to nest, and occasional on-shore basking by males and females, marine turtles spend their entire lives at sea. They have unique and complex biological traits and life histories that in some cases are not fully understood.

Because of their highly migratory nature, effective marine turtle conservation requires international and sometimes intercontinental coordination and cooperation. International trade in marine turtles and their products is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which lists marine turtles on Appendix 1, and marine turtles are protected by many national laws, and by regional agreements such as the Indian Ocean – South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, and the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Conservation Measures for Marine Turtles of the Atlantic Coast of Africa.