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How old can sea turtles live to be? Are they endangered?
— Eleni O., Grade 3

Herpetologist Minh Duc Le answers this question:

Hi Eleni,

Turtles in general have a long life span. But it's difficult to know exactly how long sea turtles can live. Their life span is often longer than most research projects. So it is hard to accurately measure their life span over this long period of time. The most consistent estimate is about 80 years.

sea turtle

There are seven species of sea turtles. Six of them are endangered.

All species of sea turtles, except for the flatback sea turtle in Australia, are listed as endangered  or critically endangered. Sea turtles have many natural predators. Tiger sharks and killer whales eat adult sea turtles. Dogs, seabirds, and raccoons eat sea turtle eggs and hatchlings.

sea turtle poking its head out of water

Sea turtles need air to survive.

Sea turtles also face many threats from human activity. Beach development, like the building of new hotels and homes, reduces suitable places where sea turtles can nest. Disturbances, such as noise, trash, and light, can also scare sea turtles away from their nesting sites. And in some cases, sea turtles can die from eating trash that they have mistaken for food.

Perhaps the most severe problem to the survival of sea turtles is the risk of drowning in large commercial nets that are used to catch shrimp. Sea turtles cannot live under water for a long time without surfacing to breathe. So getting entangled in the nets prevents them from breathing .

Other threats to sea turtles include illegal hunting for meat and shells, illegal egg collecting, and collisions with boats and propellers.

sea turtle caught in fishermen net

Each year, thousands of sea turtles die from getting caught in nets.

There are a few simple things you can do to protect sea turtles:

  • Don't leave trash on the beach.
  • Don't shine artificial light on beaches at night where sea turtles nest.
  • Don't buy products made of sea turtle shells, like eyeglass frames or combs. They're a part of the illegal wildlife trade. 
  • Continue to learn more about endangered sea turtles, and teach others about how to protect them.

You Can Make a Difference!

 

Explore More:

Mink Duc Le

Name:
Minh Duc Le

Job Title:
Research Scientist, Department of Herpetology

Known For:
Minh is a herpetologist. He studies turtles around the world. Minh has traveled to many places in the U.S. and Vietnam to study turtle ecology. In the lab, Minh sequences DNA from different turtle species to find out how they're related to one another.

Cool Fact:
Minh co-wrote a book about the diversity of Vietnam's unique animal and plant species. It also provides conservation efforts to protect this amazing and highly threatened biodiversity.

Image Credits:
sea turtle and sea stars, courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Services / NOAA; sea turtle surfacing, courtesy of Jeff Seminoff / NOAA; sea turtle trapped in net, courtesy of NOAA; Minh Duc Le, © AMNH.