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Managing, conserving, and rebuilding populations of sea turtles
in the Greater Atlantic waters.

Leatherback sea turtle
Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Jennifer Gatzke


Sea turtles are reptiles (cold-blooded, air-breathing animals) with bodies that are well-adapted to the marine environment.  Found worldwide, they typically nest (lay their eggs) on tropical beaches and forage (feed) as far north as temperate (moderate temperature) waters.  Six sea turtle species are found in U.S. waters, and all six are protected under the Endangered Species Act.   The sea turtle shell consists of two parts, the carapace (upper part) and plastron (lower part).  Green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and olive ridleys are considered “hard-shelled” sea turtles and have hard scales (also called scutes) that cover the shell.  The leatherback has a shell of small interlocking bones covered with black, rubbery skin. Turtle shells, along with other features, can be used to distinguish between species of sea turtles.



Sea Turtles in the Greater Atlantic Region

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
Credit: NOAA/GARFO/Kate Sampson


Five sea turtle species, green, hawksbill (rare visitor to the Northeast), Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead sea turtles, are found in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean.  Juveniles and, to a lesser extent, adults are commonly found in the Greater Atlantic Region.  Sea turtles often migrate long distances from nesting beaches to their foraging grounds.  The waters of the Greater Atlantic Region serve as important foraging and developmental areas for sea turtles when water temperatures are warm enough.  As water temperatures warm in the spring, sea turtles begin to migrate northward, arriving in Virginia waters as early as April/May and on the more northern foraging grounds in New England in June.  This trend is reversed in the fall as water temperatures cool with most sea turtles leaving  New England by fall.



Greater Atlantic Region Sea Turtle Program

Leatherback Disentanglement
Credit: Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) share jurisdiction for sea turtles.  NMFS has the lead responsibility in the marine environment, while USFWS has responsibility for sea turtles on land.  The Greater Atlantic Region's Sea Turtle Program works closely with USFWS, NMFS headquarters, NMFS science centers, and other NMFS regional offices.  Through management, conservation, and recovery efforts, and public outreach and education, the program strives to ensure the survival of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Program goals include implementing management strategies necessary to minimize threats to these species.  Threats to sea turtles in the marine environment include bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries, capture during channel dredging, vessel collisions, marine pollution, and impingement on power plant intakes, among others.  The program also coordinates the Greater Atlantic Region Sea Turtle Stranding and Disentanglement Networks, which include non-profit organizations, state agencies, and universities that respond to live and dead stranded or distressed sea turtles, as well as collect data on these events.  Injured or sick sea turtles are often brought into rehabilitation facilities for recovery.  


Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Coordinator Michael Asaro 978-282-8469
Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator Carrie Upite 978-282-8475
Sea Turtle Stranding and Disentanglement Coordinator Kate Sampson 978-282-8470
Sea Turtle Bycatch Reduction Specialist Ellen Keane 978-282-8476