Are Sea Turtles Illegal? [Most Common Questions Answered]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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I wonder why people are obsessed with touching or keeping marine turtles as pets. Such idiotic behavior has harmed the population of this species. For such reasons, sea turtles are declared endangered worldwide. So, are sea turtles illegal?

It is illegal to possess or trade sea turtles. You can not even touch a marine turtle unless it is in dire need. Authorities have imposed these rules to protect the species from extinction.

I know you have many more questions regarding these rules and regulations. I have answered everything in the following article.

Are Sea Turtles Illegal?

Possession of sea turtles or any of their body parts is totally illegal, at least in the USA. The country has imposed sets of laws to protect this marine species. Well, the vulnerability of these turtles has forced the authorities to make this decision.

See, marine turtles live in the ocean and barely come to the beaches. You will spot these creatures near the shore diving now and then. Also, you can snorkel with these majestic turtles depending on the location.

Of course, it seems humans and sea turtles in coastal areas are living in harmony. But the truth is bitter and upholds a cruel scene.

Most tribal and local people are kind to sea turtles. Yet, a small group has taken the presence of these creatures as a business opportunity.

Killing sea turtles for their meat, bone, skin, and shell has become profitable. Moreover, the market price of sea turtle eggs is also high. Therefore, community nests of marine turtles are also exposed to these greedy businessmen.

I know many coastal tribes kill and feast on sea turtles. But those are sacred rituals, and they celebrate them occasionally. In fact, some tribes pay their respect to marine turtles and consider them divine beings. Hence, their behavior is justified.

But in no way does killing and serving sea turtle meat or egg as an exclusive dish in a 5-star restaurant make sense.

Moreover, some people have pulled off crafts from sea turtles’ shells, bones, and skin. In many coastal regions, souvenirs made of sea turtle body parts are popular.

It does not end here. According to old books, sea turtle bone powder has medicinal properties. So, people often collect the bones for healing purposes.

In short, these acts fall under turtle poaching in one way or another. It can not be a way of treating an innocent creature.

The authorities have ignored the situation for a long time. But the poaching scene got really bad in the past, and the sea turtle population was declining. Therefore, possession or mistreatment of sea turtles has been declared illegal to restore the conservation status of this marine species.

A report published in September 2022 indicates that around 1.1 million sea turtles have been illegally killed or poached in the last 30 years. Can you imagine the number? No wonder the species is endangered, and some subspecies are on the verge of extinction.

Considering the intensity of the scenario, making sea turtles illegal sounds like a logical move. You will be fined and punished to jail if you are guilty of taking a sea turtle in or disturbing the creature.

When Were Sea Turtles Banned?

In the USA, sea turtles got banned in March 1998. The government took this decision years after the species was tagged endangered. Though late, the imposed rules have impacted to revive the declining sea turtle population to an extent.

Some other countries have also banned the trade or possession of sea turtles. But the laws are not enforced properly. In fact, illegal sea turtle trafficking is still ongoing between the USA and Mexico.

Moreover, Vietnam still stands as number one for trafficking marine turtles. On the other hand, the China and Japanese market buy illegal sea turtle meat and body parts at a high price for the high society.

Destroying this black market is indeed a challenge for the concerned marine authorities. Only the enforcement of laws and warning people about the significance of sea turtles can improve this condition.

Is It Illegal To Get Close To A Sea Turtle?

Well, there are no rules or laws stating that you can not get close to a sea turtle. But yes, you can not touch the creature or disturb it either. You will be fined or jailed if you are spotted doing any of the two.

Sea turtles are shy creatures and are not comfortable around humans. So, your approach or presence can stress them. Just like aquatic turtles, panic and anxiety are not good for sea turtles either.

Stress can mess up the daily routine of sea turtles, leading to health degradation. Of course, you do not want that. Hence, keeping a minimum distance of 10 feet or 3 meters from the creature is suggested. If the turtle is closer, just stay calm and do not scare it away.

Again, laws are made to retrain petting sea turtles too. As per marine life law, it is a federal crime to touch and harass sea turtles. You can be fined $1000 – $15000 or even more for the act. In some cases, the accused is sent to jail for 6 months.

Do not think these rules are made just for the sake of the name. No! In 2018, a man on Kanui Island was fined $15000 for misbehaving with a marine turtle.

Enforcement of these laws is necessary as people often take advantage of these innocent creatures. For example, once two young men tried to stand on a marine turtle and use it as a boat.

Just like your presence, the touch can also stress the turtles. Not only that. It will break the protective biofilm on their skin, making them vulnerable in the ocean environment.

So, do not touch the sea turtles or try approaching them. Go through this article to get more details on what makes touching the marine turtle illegal.

Which Is The Most Endangered Sea Turtle?

Sea turtle species include 7 subspecies. Unfortunately, all of these subspecies are endangered or vulnerable. Among them, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the most endangered and show a declining population.

Well, there are enough reasons why the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are critically endangered. For example, for traders, this subspecies is an easy option to trap. It is because these turtles live near the shorelines.

With time, the demand for products made from Kemp’s Ridley’s bone, skin, and shell increased. As a result, the poaching rate also spiked. Consequently, the subspecies are now standing on the verge of extinction.

A report from 2021 estimated that about 7000 – 9000 nesting female Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are left in the world. The declining population will crash down the marine ecosystem if immediate actions are not taken to protect them.

Why Are Sea Turtles Endangered?

All 7 subspecies of sea turtles are either endangered or vulnerable. But why is the marine turtle population declining? Here are the reasons,

Turtle Poaching

The prime factor responsible for this miserable scenario is turtle poaching.

Looking back, the sea turtles were safe and sound in the ocean. But with time, a group has exploited the species and converted them into their business product.

The boots and bags made of sea turtle skin are considered luxurious products and sell for thousands of dollars. Similarly, turtle bone and shell jewelry are also in high demand.

Not only that. Fancy restaurants serve sea turtle meat and egg dishes to the elite class people.

So, turtle poaching has been a real problem that affects the sea turtle population. No matter how hard the authorities try, they can not eliminate the root of this issue.

Find which sea turtle species are endangered from this write-up.

Drowning Sea Turtle

Many of you do not know that sea turtles can drown. Thousands of marine turtles die in the ocean each year, and we are responsible for it. No kidding.

The fishermen in the ocean often dump their nets and traps in the open sea. Marine turtles can easily fall into these traps or entangle themselves in the nets.

When sleeping, sea turtles can hold their breath and stay underwater for up to 10 hours. But they can only survive for 45 minutes or so during active hours. Therefore, the trapped turtle will drown if it is out of breath and can not reach the surface.

Remember, when panicked, a sea turtle runs out of oxygen more quickly.

Plastic Consumption

Though the death rate due to plastic consumption is not significant, you can not deny its existence. The sad thing is that the death ratio will increase soon, considering the plastic dump we have created underwater.

Of course, marine turtles are not dumb. But they do not bite or eat the plastic intentionally.

Instead, the floating plastics often look similar to jellyfish. As a result, the creatures get tempted and feast on plastics.

Unfortunately, the digestive system of sea turtles is not designed to decompose plastics. So, the materials block the gut and make the creature feel full all the time. Eventually, the turtles stop eating, and the lack of nutrients leads them to death.

Deaths do not always occur because of plastic in the gut. Sometimes sea turtles choke on plastic blocks and die in pain.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss due to climate change and artificial disasters is another crucial reason behind the declining population of sea turtles. With the growing industrialization, the pollution rate is also increasing. As a result, our ocean water or air is not as pure as before.

As a consequence, you are facing more calamities nowadays. Those disasters not only kill sea turtles but destroy their habitat. Therefore, we can see a fall in their population.

Why Should Humans Protect Sea Turtles?

Of course, the sea turtle is not just another creature in the ocean. But these majestic animals actually contribute to maintaining a healthy ocean environment and balancing our ecosystem.


Well, marine turtles are more than 100 million years old. These creatures are dependent on seaweeds and seabeds for living.

As many of us do not know, these seagrasses need maintenance. Otherwise, they will grow out of control and harm other animals. Sea turtles consume these seabeds and keep the ocean clean.

Also, sea turtles travel from one place to another, including from the beach to the ocean. As a result, the nutrients get transported from the land to the sea, keeping the dune healthy. Different sources claim that severe ocean changes occur because of marine turtles’ extinction.

If the turtle population does not bounce back, we will face more deadly issues. For example, natural calamities will spike up, and the animals dependent on sea turtles will disappear.

In short, marine turtles play a crucial role in keeping the ocean calm. Any disbalance can disrupt our ecosystem.

Can You Eat Sea Turtle?

You can definitely eat sea turtles. In fact, these marine turtle meats and eggs are considered delicacies in many societies.

In ancient times, only the coastal people used sea turtle recipes to celebrate their festivals. But in recent times, the city people have become hooked up to these dishes. They often consider eating these rare items as a sign of their class.

Let me clear you one thing.

Killing or eating sea turtle meat is equally illegal and a state-federal offense in the USA. The authorities can charge both the restaurant and you for this crime. In many states, eating any aquatic turtle is also considered illegal.

Again, aquatic turtle meal is available for sale in many states and countries. But of course, you can not use wild-caught aquatic turtles. Instead, many turtle harvesting farms breed and grow turtles for restaurants and markets.

If you desire to taste sea turtle meat, just go for those options. But in any case, do not kill the marine turtle or a wild-caught aquatic turtle.

What Do Humans Use Sea Turtles For?

All seven species of sea turtles are either vulnerable or endangered. Yes, pollution and climate change significantly impact this reduced population. But there is more to it.

Apparently, humans have hunted these innocent marine turtles and used them in many ways. For example, food, crafts, and cosmetics. As a result, sea turtle trafficking has become a hot business in the black market.

Though the sea turtles trade is illegal, people still find a way to get their hands on this endangered species.

Here is how sea turtles are exploited,

1. Sea Turtle Dishes Are Heaven

In coastal areas, sea turtle meat dishes and eggs are considered tasty meals. But they only serve this recipe only on their sacred days. This ritual has been up for centuries, and I find no issue in blaming them for the endangerment of this species.

However, the scenario changed when the city people picked up this habit. Nowadays, many top-notch restaurants in China, Japan, and the USA serve exclusive sea turtle cuisines. The sad part is that the elite class people, who claim to be educated, are the targeted customers.

Unfortunately, the market for sea turtle meat and eggs is huge. In 2014, around 42000 sea turtles were killed in Nicaragua alone to supply meat.

2. Gorgeous Crafts & Cosmetics

You will find bags made of sea turtle skin in many states and countries. Besides, souvenirs crafted out of turtle bone and shell are also popular in the coastal areas. In those areas, they sell the meat separately and utilize the bone and shell for preparing luxurious products.

However, in all cases, it is illegal.

3. Sea Turtles Heals

I know it will sound odd. But according to many scriptures, sea turtle bone, meat and egg have healing properties.

However, there is no authenticity in this claim. Yet the sea turtle body parts are sold at high prices because of this.

4. Tourism Based On Turtles

While the previously mentioned businesses are illegal, sea turtle tourism is actually appreciated. The statistic indicates that encouraging locals to get into this business can boost the economy of the area.

Turtle lovers from all over the world travel to those areas to spend time with sea turtles. You can snorkel with these majestic creatures and watch them swimming in the ocean.

Also, in nesting areas, many organizations arrange a turtle walk. Here you will observe the nesting turtles from a distance. If lucky, you can also spot just emerged babies running towards the ocean.


Yes, touching or petting a sea turtle is illegal. So is the trade of this species. But do you know that adopting a sea turtle is possible? The following article explains it all.

How to adopt a sea turtle? A complete guide.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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