Where to See (and Help) Sea Turtles in the U.S.
Slow down and enjoy seeing sea turtles on these beautiful beaches throughout the United States, and learn how you can help these threatened animals.
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Sea Turtles in the U.S.
Thanks to conservation measures, public awareness and thousands of local volunteers, sea turtles that nest on U.S. beaches are fairing better than they have in decades. Organizations such as the Sea Turtle Conservancy and SeaTurtle.org have helped people understand the importance of keeping beaches clean, filling in holes and using turtle-friendly lighting during nesting and hatching seasons near beaches. Here are several beaches throughout the United States where sea turtles can be seen, and where you can learn more about and help protect these still at-risk ancient creatures.
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Adult female sea turtles such as Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles can be seen laying eggs on the beaches of Padre Island National Park from April through August. Rangers remove the eggs to a location safe from traffic and predators, so if you’re lucky enough to witness a laying, note the location and report it. Green sea turtles live in the waters off of the beach year-round, and swimmers and snorkelers may encounter them feeding in shallow water along jetties such as at Packery Channel on North Padre Island and at the south end of Mansfield Channel. National Park rangers release hatchlings from mid-June through August after 6 am on Malaquite Beach. Check out the park's Sea Turtle Program Facebook Page or call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163 for the next public baby turtle release. Other times, injured turtles that were nursed back to health are released on the beach (as in this photo). You can help patrol for turtles and nests by volunteering at the park.
Laniakea Beach, Hawaii
Laniakea Beach — locally called Turtle Beach — is a favorite hangout on Oahu's North Shore for honu—green sea turtles. Sea turtles often only come ashore to lay eggs, but here turtles crawl out of the sea simple to sunbath on the warm sand. Others can be seen lazily munching seaweed from the rocks in the shallows. As everywhere in the United States, sea turtles are protected and should never be touched or crowded by people. There are several ways to volunteer to help sea turtles throughout Hawaii, listed here.
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, Florida
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach, Florida, is prime nesting habitat for loggerhead turtles. Go on hikes with rangers to learn about and hopefully spot turtles, and volunteer to help collect data and perform other duties to help protect these endangered species. Afterward, visit the nearby Loggerhead Marinelife Center to see what is being done to help sea turtles, and even volunteer.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Green, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles all nest on Jekyll Island typically from May to August, peaking in July. Learn about Georgia’s sea turtles at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, where visitors can see rehabilitation efforts, daily turtle feeding and even go on beach hikes looking for turtles with staff members.
Topsail Beach, North Carolina
With 26 miles of beach, North Carolina’s Topsail Beach is prime real estate for nesting loggerhead mothers from mid-May through August. Volunteers comb the beach each morning to identify new nests, and either tape off the nests to protect them or move the eggs to a safe location if foot traffic or surf are thought to be threats. Check out the Topsail Sea Turtle Hospital Facebook page for up-to-date info on the area’s sea turtle activity, and make sure to visit the Kaoren Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center in nearby Surf City to see recovering turtles and learn how you can help. Bald Head Island south of Topsail Beach is another area where sea turtles frequently make nests, as is Cape Hatteras National Seashore. For more North Carolina sea turtle information, visit the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project. If you’re a beer drinker, know that every sip of a Salty Turtle Beer Company brew is helping North Carolina sea turtles.
Long Beach, California
In recent years a population of green sea turtles has taken up residence in the waters off of Long Beach. Their heads are often seen bobbing up for a gulp of air near the San Gabriel River inlet, and they are the northern-most group of sea turtles known in the U.S. It’s thought that these turtles made their way from Mexico and are attracted to the warm-water discharge of an electric plant that is scheduled to convert to natural gas. Even though the new plant will be cooler, it’s expected that the turtles will stick around to enjoy the warm California sun and generally warming waters. Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific to learn more about California’s newest residents and the efforts being taken to help them.
Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
From May to October loggerhead sea turtles nest in the warm sands of Hunting Island State Park. Join Friends of Hunting Island State Park as volunteers check nests and help babies and stranded mothers make it to the water. Check out their Facebook page for current events and beach tours. At the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Care Center is open to the public, where visitors can see the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate injured sea turtles and learn more about them. South Carolina residents can order special license plates that help sea turtles here.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
In September 2017, 100 baby loggerhead turtles made national news when they emerged from a nest and scampered to the water at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. This was the first documented successful hatching of sea turtles in Maryland, though many nests had been laid over the years and removed to be hatched in protected conditions at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. This marks the northern limit for sea turtle nesting on the East Coast. Go on beach patrols with rangers to look for signs of nesting turtles and report any tracks or turtle sightings to rangers. Check the park’s Facebook page for more turtle news and turtle-release events.
False Cape State Park, Virginia
Green, loggerhead, leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles all nest on the beaches of Virginia’s False Cape State Park. Volunteer with Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to patrol the beach for turtle nests and to help biologists "nest sit," turtle nests that are expected to hatch in order to protect the tiny turtles as they make their way to the ocean.
Key West, Florida
Along with Hawaii, Florida beaches throughout the state are the most active for sea turtle egg laying. At Smathers, Higgs and other beaches in Key West, several species of sea turtles are busy laying eggs from March through October. Join the Key West Sea Turtle Club as they patrol beaches to mark nests, or help relocate eggs if necessary for their safety. Save-A-Turtle is another way to volunteer in the Florida Keys. On nearby Marathon, visit the Turtle Hospital, where injured sea turtles are nursed back to health and then released.
Sanibel and Captiva Island, Florida
Nearly 90 percent of sea turtle nestings in the U.S. occurs on Florida's shores, including Sanibel and Captiva Island, where plastic drinking straws have been banned in order to protect sea turtles who mistake them for food. Local resorts such as Sundial Beach Resort and South Seas Island Resort have incorporated sea turtle programs into family and children's activities and beachcombing. The CROW Clinic helps injured sea turtles return to the wild and has volunteer opportunities.