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Sea Turtles: Species at Risk

Although it is illegal to intentionally kill the Australian flatback sea turtle, coastal pollution and habitat degradation continue to be major threats to its survival. Flatback sea turtles also face natural threats such as predation by saltwater crocodiles, dingos, foxes, rats and other animals that feed on sea turtle eggs and hatchlings.

Breeding populations of green sea turtles in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico are endangered with extinction, while all other populations are threatened. Globally, green sea turtles have declined by at least 37 percent and possibly over 70 percent during the last 140 years.

Hawksbill sea turtles are in danger of extinction and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Capturing and killing hawksbill sea turtles for their valuable shell, which is used to make hairclips, combs, jewelry, decorative art and even cowboy boots, is a major threat to the recovery of the species.

In the late 1940s, tens of thousands of Kemp's ridley sea turtles nested near Rancho Nuevo in Mexico, the turtles' primary nesting beach. However, by the late 1980's, only a few hundred adult females returned, demonstrating the population's dramatic decline.

In 1982, scientists estimated that there were 115,000 adult female leatherback sea turtles worldwide. Recent estimates have placed the number between 20,000 and 30,000.

The Pacific leatherback sea turtle is in such severe decline that scientists believe they will become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within the next 30 years unless significant actions are taken to protect them very quickly.

Loggerhead sea turtles are currently listed as being threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers are rapidly declining. Loggerhead sea turtles, like other sea turtle species, face many natural and human-induced threats. Scientists have determined that the capture in fishing gear and the loss of nesting habitat are major causes of the loggerhead's decline.

Olive ridley sea turtles, which are named for their olive-colored shell, are listed as threatened, with the exception of a single population that nests in Mexico, which is endangered. The decline of the olive ridley sea turtle is primarily due to capture in commercial fisheries, loss of nesting habitat and continued killing of adults and poaching of eggs.