Can You Touch Sea Turtles? [Interesting Facts]

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

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You all go to islands for vacation and dream of snorkeling with sea turtles. Of course, you can dive with these marine creatures, but you should know the minimum ethics on dealing with them. Consider this write-up as your lesson 101, where I will answer the most common question. Yes, can you touch sea turtles?

You can not touch a sea turtle. Your petting might seem a threat to the species and scare them away. In 2018, a man was fined $1500 for harassing a sea turtle while on his vacation on the Island of Kanui.

Do you think your touch harms the sea turtles? What happens if you touch the creatures anyway? Find out in the following article.

Can You Touch Sea Turtles?

YOU CAN NOT FEED, TOUCH, OR HARASS SEA TURTLES. I am not imposing my personal opinion on you. This statement comes directly from ESA (Endangered Species Act), and the state authorities have offered their full support to implement the law.

All the islands and beach tourist spots have mandatory signboards or posters indicating that harassing a sea turtle or any animal is totally illegal. I suggest you do not take the advice lightly. Harassing marine turtles or creatures falls under the civil or federal crime category depending on the severity.

What happens if you violate the law? You have to provide penalties for your actions. Here is the updated penalty amount for this federal offense,

Violation History – Penalty Amount

Harras$1000 – $10,500$2000 – Statutory Maximum$7,500 – Statutory Maximum

To this date, the maximum fine charged for touching a sea turtle was $15,000.

Unfortunately, people are still not aware of this law. If you go on a fancy island, you will find tourists constantly touching, cheering, calling, or snapping photos of the sea turtles.

The behavior gets worse. Reckless and ignorant tourists try to get on the marine turtles to ride them and think of it as an adventure.

In many islands, the locals think of the sea turtles as celestial beings and a part of their tradition. So, they pay their respect to the whole ocean. When you harass the turtles, you disrespect the culture in a way.

If you really want to know the sea turtles more closely, use the internet. Many zoos or organizations showcase these creatures and give you a brief on their life. Sure, sign up for those programs. But please, do not harass a sea creature to flex on your social media.

Why Is It Illegal To Touch Sea Turtles?

In most cases, the tourist or the spectator has no intention to hurt the sea turtles. He pets the turtle out of amusement and as a token of affection. Right? Then why has the state made it illegal? Is it logical?

Well, I understand if you feel that way. But wait, it does not make the marine turtle protection act illogical, bogus, or unnecessary. I am telling you why.

1. Handling Sea Turtles Is Not Easy

Handling turtles, especially picking them up, is not a cup of tea. The creature might feel discomfort with your touch. Hence, you have to stay alert while caring for the turtles. You will get my point if you are a turtle keeper yourself.

Now, the tourists are, of course, not turtle experts. They have little knowledge about how to interact with sea turtles. Moreover, a single touch can cause mental stress to marine creatures that thought does not even cross their minds.

So, what happens at last? The tourists end up harassing the sea turtles. The cheering and constant petting scares these creatures and makes them anxious. A turtle with this kind of trauma often messes up its upcoming life cycle that is a loss for nature.

Again, people might treat the sea turtles as their adventure sports tool. They snap photos with these creatures but not in a humane way. I have seen social media posts of teens riding a sea turtle, which is insane.

The coastal guards alone can not stop such heinous acts. Hence, the government has imposed a heavy penalty fine and jail for misbehaving with marine turtles.

2. Touch breaks the biofilm layer

It might seem that a single touch does not make any difference. But actually, it does.

Sea turtles live in the open ocean and grow a biofilm layer on their body. It protects them from any harmful bacteria and keeps them living an adventurous life.

A single touch breaks the film cell and makes the sea turtles exposed to bacterial attacks and diseases. If a turtle falls sick in the ocean, it might die. The marine turtle population is already going down, and we can not afford to lose even one more of them.

Again, have you ever considered your risk while petting the turtles? They can carry germs and bacteria, which might harm you later.

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3. Not fully Safe

Marine turtles seem shy and tame. Right? Of course, they prefer a solitary life and are not very docile. But do not take them as harmless.

If you disturb these turtles, they might attack you. While diving, you should maintain a safe distance from the turtles. Their sharp jaws, beaks, and heavyweight always work in their favor.

4. Disrespectful To The Locals

Sea turtles play significant roles in the tradition or religion of many coastal areas. When you ride these creatures or harass them, the locals take it as an insult to their culture. As a tourist, you should be respectful of the sentiment of any place you visit.

5. Sea Turtles Are Endangered!

The last and the most important reason.

Sea turtles are endangered species. The marine and wildlife authorities are working together to save these creatures. There are already researchers and plans in the pipeline waiting for the execution.

Banning the trade of marine turtles or harassing them is an excellent step to increase the survival chances of these turtles.

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Is It Harmful To Touch A Sea Turtle?

It is harmful and illegal to touch sea turtles. Feeding, petting, or snapping photos of the marine falls under a civil and federal crime in most countries.

Now, why am I referring to touching the sea turtles as harmful? Even if it is, but for who? For you or the turtles? Well, for both sides.

Let’s get to each point one by one.

1. Sea creatures have their way of protection from infection. Generally, they grow slimy bio-films on their skin or shell to fight the germs. When you touch the turtles, they have to compromise the protection.

The slightest touch can disrupt the polyp’s hard exterior, which reduces turtle immunity. Eventually, the whole protection shield will die off, and the creatures will become vulnerable to the ocean environment.

Exposure to diseases shortens marine turtle life, leaving no way to escape. Sea turtles are blessed with a long life, more than 100 years. The ignorance of people can mess up their life expectancy.

See, your single touch, the temporary entertainment and urge to brag the vacation might lead to the death of a majestic marine creature. Now ask yourself whether you should do it or not.

2. Again, you might get hurt while harassing the sea turtles. The creatures may carry salmonella bacteria on their shell and skin. Touching them will cause you nausea, vomiting, stomachache, headache, etc. If you have a kid or pregnant holiday partner, keep them away from these turtles.

Not only that, marine turtles can get aggressive without giving you any warning. There is plenty of news of sea turtles attacking the divers. In most cases, the snorkelers were too close to the creatures.

Can You Touch A Sea Turtle Shell?

It is advised not to touch marine turtles since they are endangered. Touching the sea turtle shell makes it a federal crime, and you might have to pay fines in thousands of dollars or spend months in prison.

While diving in the deep sea, marine turtles often swim with the divers. If your movements are slow and steady, these creatures might pass you at a close distance.

I suggest you avoid any physical contact with the turtles. However, many sources recommend something opposite. According to them, touching the turtle shells in such a condition is less risky than playing with their skin, flippers, or head.

Is Touching A Baby Sea Turtle Illegal?

Touching sea turtles, including babies, is illegal in many states and countries. The hatchlings are more vulnerable than the adults, and rough handling can affect their growth or survival rate.

See, the tourists are always up for an adventure, and to them, money matters a little. Moreover, they are not well aware of marine life and protection in many cases. The Mexican hotels took such naiveness as their business opportunity.

These hotels offered the tourists a chance to release the baby sea turtles in the ocean for a minimum fee. They had to collect the freshly hatched sea turtles and confine them for days to run the events. The process was unhealthy and alarming for the hatchlings. But thankfully, the authorities have banned such sport.

Again, as a turtle hobbyist, you already know how struggling handling a turtle can be. In most cases, turtles do not even like frequent touch as it stresses them. The same condition applies to the sea turtles too.

Tourists often have no idea how to touch a sea turtle. So, their rough touch turns into torture and harassment for the babies. It scares the hatchlings and impacts their further growth.

While on vacation, tourists roam around the sandy beach at night with their torch lights. Do you know it can harm baby sea turtles?

The hatchlings mostly come out of the nest during the night because it is calm and there are no humans. These babies use the moonlight as their guidance angel and follow it to the ocean. Any external light can fool these hatchlings and confuse them in the direction.

See, 1 in a 1000 hatchings make it alive to adulthood. Your irresponsible behavior can decrease the possibility.

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Most sea turtle species are already endangered, and I am sure you do not want to contribute to the extinction of these creatures.

One more thing. Baby sea turtles need no cheer from the tourists to jump into the ocean. They can cross the distance between the nest and the water on their own.

Why Is It Illegal To Touch A Sea Turtle In Hawaii?

Touching Hawaiian sea turtles is illegal since these are endangered creatures. Human contacts can make these creatures vulnerable and exposed to diseases. Not only that, harassing these turtles might hurt the sentimental value of the local Hawaiian people.

Hawaii is the ultimate tourist destination for many people around the world. If you ever get a chance to visit this heaven, you will be amazed to see the natural vastness the island offers, especially the marine life. Honu, the Hawaiian turtle, has been the center of attraction for thousands of turtle lovers.

But do you know, it is totally illegal to touch a sea turtle in Hawaii? Do not lose heart as the authority has every reason to take the step.

See, the tourists often have no idea how to interact with the marine turtles. So, they end up disturbing the creatures. The harassment affects the phase change and transformation of these turtles. Not to mention the risk of transferring bacteria via touch.

Ignorant people try to ride the sea turtles to add thrill to their adventure. The turtles get really annoyed at those acts and stress out. You can not just make them stop from doing such stupid stunts with your words. Hence, it was mandatory to impose laws on handling sea turtles.

According to the recent endangered specimen act, the violation of the law leads to monetary penalty or imprisonment.

There is one more thing.

The Hawaiian people worship Honu, the turtle, as a celestial object. These creatures have traditional and other sentimental value to these locals. Hence, riding or harassing these turtles is a big disrespect to the culture.

Marine creatures have a role in upholding the tourism value of Hawaii. So, you should appreciate the beauty without making a fuss.

Is It Illegal To Touch Sea Turtles In Mexico?

The current Mexican government has imposed strict laws to protect marine life. They have banned the possession, trade, or harvesting of marine turtles. Not only that, touching, harassing, or injuring a sea turtle will also fall under a criminal offense in Mexico.

Do you know Mexico is the sea turtle capital of the world? Seawater pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, etc., has impacted the marine turtle population in this place too. As per the last update, all the sea turtle species have been listed as endangered in Mexico.

But thanks to the Mexican marine life authorities. They have taken the necessary steps to the conservation of the species. Someone who will touch, ride, and disturb a sea turtle, possessing one, harm, injure and kill the creature, or do anything with the nest will be heavily fined. The penalty can be more than $10,000 and years of jail.

The sad part is people are still not aware of the law. In 2017, a well-known model Emily Ratajkowski posted a photo of her holding a baby sea turtle on Instagram. She clicked the photo using her phone flashlight.

I can say a thousand things about what is wrong with the post. First, Emily had about 12 million followers on her Instagram at that time. Her photo could have influenced a lot of followers to do the same. Second, Emily was a member of marine life conservation herself, yet she was unaware of the rules.

Touching a baby sea turtle can scare them away. Moreover, the flashlight is a massive issue for babies or adult sea turtles.

The hatchlings use the moonlight as their map. They follow the light and rush to the ocean. If you introduce an artificial light source, the babies will get confused and never make it to the sea.

However, the situation is changing. The concerned authorities are doing everything in their power to stop people from doing such foolish acts.

Even a few years before, the hotels near the nesting spots used to offer the guests to witness the release of sea turtle hatchlings. All they had to do was to confine the babies in a small pond or pool and wait for enough people to sign up for the program. However, it was highly unhealthy for the hatchlings. The experts claim that sea turtle babies should be in the ocean right after emerging from the nest.

Now, the related organizations have banned such tourism practices for extra profit. The beach policies are also concerned about these matters and stay alert.

Is It Illegal To Touch Sea Turtles In Florida?

Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act 379 has been an appreciable step for the state government to save the endangered turtle species. Under this act, it is illegal to touch or disturb any sea turtle. Harassing a marine turtle is considered a third-degree felony in Florida, and the punishment is quite strict.

“Leave Sea Turtles And Their Nests Alone”

If you have ever visited Florida, you must know this quote. Sea turtles are a true wonder of the Florida state. But unfortunately, these turtles are not safe.

Each year, there will be a few incidents of marine turtle harassment in Florida. You might think a little patting on the shell does not harm the creatures. But no, your touch or constant cheering might scare them away.

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Do you know there is a penalty for such acts? According to state law, the accused person has to pay a fine of about $5000 and might end up in jail for 5 years, depending on the consequence.

Universities, research institutes, and organizations can possess a sea turtle legally. They have to apply for the permit to the state wildlife authority.

Is It Illegal To Touch A Sea Turtle In Australia?

It is definitely illegal to touch or harass a sea turtle in Australia. The wide coastal area of the country is mainly a tourist attraction. Considering the potential threat to marine life, the government has imposed laws and regulations for environment protection and biodiversity conservation.

Australian seawater has accommodated six marine turtle species for millions of years. After every breeding season, thousands of flatback sea turtles swim towards the Indo-Pacific region to participate in communal nesting.

The species is on the verge of extinction and facing threats, especially from the people. Hence, the government has every responsibility to come forward to save these marine turtles.

The Australian government has approved the Environment Protection And Bio-diversity Conservation Act 1999. Under this law, it is illegal to feed, touch, ride, harass, injure, or kill a marine turtle. If someone does any of these acts, he will have to pay penalty money up to $20,000 or more.

Even with these regulations, people are still not aware of how to behave with sea turtles. In 2016, an Instagram post broke out where two boys posed in a surfing angle on a marine turtle. They looked happy and content with their little adventure.

Later on, the post reached the concerned authorities, who formed an investigation counsel. The accused pair claimed that the turtle was already dead when they rode it. However, no proof could support the statement.

The Australian government has recently established a research center that will work solely on marine turtle protection. The purpose is to prevent their decline and preserve the numbers.

All these actions of the government are truly appreciable. However, there is an exception to the law.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have cultural and social values linked with marine creatures, including sea turtles. These people live in the coastal area of Northern Australia.

The government has considered their sentimental and cultural value and passed the Native Title Act, 1993. As per the local law, a traditional owner can take marine resources and animals for personal and domestic use to practice his native interest and rituals. But yes, there must not be any commercial use of sea turtles.

Is It Safe To Swim With Sea Turtles?

It is safe and legal to swim with sea turtles if you are not hurting them. Trust me. Exploring the marine turtles while you snorkel will be the most valuable memory of your trip.

Where can you swim with sea turtles? Well, you can enjoy snorkeling with marine turtles on many beaches and islands. Some of the best places on the Maui west to swim with sea creatures are:

  • Honolua Bay
  • Napili Bay
  • Mokulei’s Bay
  • Mala Wharf
  • Pu’u Keka’s (Black Rock) and
  • Olowalu

Maluaka beach and Nahuna are on the south of Maui, and you might experience snorkeling with Honu in those waters.

Swimming with sea turtles and other creatures is indeed an adventure in itself. But do not act foolishly. Study the waves, wind, and weather of the diving spots. Take safety measures before getting into the water.

What To Do If You Encounter A Sea Turtle?

You definitely can not touch the sea turtle. So, what should you do when you encounter one? Or how do you interact with these creatures?

Here is what the marine and wildlife protection authorities expect you to do,

  • Do not approach the marine turtles. Instead, observe them from a distance of about 10 feet. It is applicable for both land and water.
  • Authorities encourage you to bring binoculars with you so that you can have a close look at the sea turtles.
  • Never touch or ride the sea turtles. Harassing the turtles will cost you heavy penalties.
  • These creatures have enough food sources in the ocean. So, do not offer them any food.
  • Do not try to pick the sea turtles. They have bulky bodies and weigh a lot. Get an idea of the marine turtle size from this article.
  • You should not harass the turtles for the sake of taking a snap. Keep the camera, drone, or Go-Pro away from the turtle’s face.
  • You should not throw plastics in the water. Sea turtles might eat them thinking jellyfish. Each year, many marine creatures die choking on plastic.
  • If you spot a sea turtle, do not chase it. Your amusement might scare and stress the creature. If the turtle feels panicked, it might attack you.
  • Trapping the sea turtles with nets, boats, or anything is unfair and inhumane. You might be punished if the state police find out about such an act.
  • Sea turtles often approach the snorkelers or the passing boats without meaning any harm. You stay calm in such conditions and let the creatures pass peacefully.
  • If you find out someone is harassing the sea turtles, call the tourist police or concerned authorities.


You can not touch sea turtles unless the creatures are in pain and need your help. Harassing or even possessing a sea turtle is a federal crime. The state authority has imposed this act because marine turtles are endangered. As a turtle lover, you should make people aware of this law and participate in saving the species.

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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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