Sea turtles are large, air breathing, ectothermic reptiles that have adapted for life in the sea. They have paddle-shaped flippers instead of feet, streamlined bodies, salt glands, and cannot retract into their shell like a land turtle can. Sea turtles have ancestors pre-dating the dinosaurs 245 million years ago. The difference between them and their ancestors is size, they are a lot smaller today. Archelon, the largest sea turtle known, swam the waters 70 million years ago, was 16 feet from flipper to flipper and weighed over 5,000 pounds. The leatherback, the largest living sea turtle, is 7 feet from flipper to flipper and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
Seven species of sea turtles have managed to survive to modern times. All are considered threatened or endangered. Three of these species; the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles nest on Broward County’s beaches, and two of these species; the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochlys kempi) are seen offshore.
Mainly overharvesting of sea turtles for meat, eggs, leather, and tortoise shells up until the 1970s caused turtle populations to crash. All species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered and protected through Florida Statues, Chapter 370, and by the United States Endangered Species Act of 1973. Briefly, these laws state that: "No person may take, harass, harm, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or attempts to engage in any such conduct to marine turtles, turtle nests, and/or turtle eggs." Any person who knowingly violates any provision of the act may be assessed civil penalties up to $25,000 or criminal penalty up to $100,000 and up to one year imprisonment.
Sea turtle populations have been seriously reduced worldwide through a number of human influences. Pollution of the waters via trash, chemicals, and discarded fishing nets, lines, and hooks are frequently ingested by sea turtles causing internal health issues. Incidental capture of sea turtles in fishing nets and shrimp trawls, can prevent sea turtles from reaching the surface to breathe. Overdeveloped coastal areas have reduced natural nesting habitats and caused increased lighting which disorients hatchlings and nesting mothers. Boaters need to use caution as sea turtles can be primarily found at or just below the surface in coastal and inland waters especially during mating, nesting, and hatching season. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings that make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood, this is due to all the natural and anthropogenic obstacles they face. For these reasons all sea turtle species are protected.
In the Atlantic, the loggerhead sea turtle and green sea turtle are listed as threatened. The leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle species are listed as endangered everywhere.