STC Sea Turtle Blog

Legislative Session Brings Positive Outcomes for Sea Turtles

The 2024 Florida Legislative Session took place from January 9 to March 8. During that time, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), with critical help from our supporters, legislators, and partner environmental organizations, had the ability to defeat problematic legislation and champion policies that will protect sea turtles.



From November through March, STC conducted outreach around several bills filed during the Session that could have impacted Florida’s sea turtles and habitats. One of the most pressing was S.B. 1126/H.B. 1641 – Regulation of Auxiliary Containers, a bill that would have prevented all local governments in Florida from regulating any type of single-use container. This would have included single-use plastic, glass, polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), and other materials. These regulations already exist in more than 20 local governments across the State and in some state parks, including Itchetucknee Springs, and directly prevent trash from polluting our waterways and harming wildlife.

The bill gained traction quickly. Once the bill was approved in its first House and Senate committee stops, STC and the environmental community rallied together to garner opposition to the bill. While we try to do this sparingly, STC sent several action alerts through social media, our website, and our e-newsletter urging our followers to contact committee members to vote “no” on the bill. On February 6, when the Senate version was scheduled to be heard in the Community Affairs Committee, STC Policy Coordinator Stacey Gallagher and Membership Coordinator Evan Cooper traveled to the Capitol in Tallahassee to speak against the bill. Representatives from the Florida Springs Council, the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, and additional north Florida springs groups also traveled to speak at the meeting. However, once we sat down in the committee meeting, the committee chair announced that the bill was “temporarily postponed” by the bill sponsor. Because the committee was not scheduled to meet again for the rest of the Session, the Senate version of the bill was effectively dead. We believe that this positive development would not have occurred without the strong level of opposition waged by our partners and supporters.


STC Development and Policy Coordinator Stacey Gallagher and Membership Coordinator Evan Cooper pose with representatives from the Surfrider Foundation, the Florida Springs Council, and North Florida springs groups at the Florida Capitol on Feb. 6.


Unfortunately, the following week on Feb. 14, the House version of the bill was scheduled to be heard in the State Affairs Committee. STC and its partners again contacted legislators to educate them about the potential harms of this bill and urged our followers to do the same through action alerts. Luckily, the same result occurred in this meeting as the Senate version – the bill was temporarily postponed by the sponsor as soon as the meeting began. With this action, S.B. 1126/H.B. 1641 – Regulation of Auxiliary Containers was defeated, and local ability to regulate single-use containers was preserved.

Another concerning bill that STC and its partners advocated against was S.B. 738/H.B. 789 – Environmental Management. If passed in its original form, the bill would have required Florida citizens or nonprofits to pay the attorney fees for the prevailing party if they challenged a State environmental decision and lost. The bill also called for the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and water management districts to conduct a “holistic review” of their coastal permitting processes and permit programs in order to “increase efficiency” within each program. Although “efficiency” in government permitting programs seems like it would be a good thing, used in this context, “efficiency” could have meant reducing important checks and balances in place to protect Florida’s natural resources, including our beaches and waterways. Currently, state regulations are in place that dictate the timing, location, and type of coastal construction that can be completed on Florida’s beaches to ensure that it does not harm federally-protected sea turtles and their habitat. If this bill were to have passed as written, these important barriers could have been weakened, leading to further improper development on Florida’s beaches and putting our sea turtles and largest economic driver at risk. STC is happy to share that with strong advocacy by our followers who responded to our action alerts and our partners, the harmful sections in the bill containing the fee-shifting provision and the “holistic review” of permitting processes were taken out of the bill through amendments.

Similar to the previous bill, S.B. 298/ H.B. 1079 – Local Government Coastal Protections would have taken away local governments’ ability to regulate building in coastal high hazard zones to the State. It also would have invalidated existing coastal building regulations that were already in place. Luckily, the House version of this bill did not move forward and the Senate version was amended to remove the harmful provisions regarding coastal high hazard building regulations.

Finally, STC also advocated for the passage of S.B. 602/H.B. 321 – Release of Balloons. Although many Floridians participate in balloon releases as part of a celebration or to honor a loved one, once balloons are released, they can travel thousands of miles before landing. When a balloon bursts and lands in the ocean, sea turtles and other marine wildlife often consume it because of its resemblance to jellyfish. Sea turtles are unable to regurgitate, so once the balloon enters the digestive tract, it can cause an impaction that can lead to death. As Florida Statute currently reads, residents can release up to ten balloons per day, with an exception for biodegradable balloons, which is not scientifically sound. This bill closed this unfortunate loophole and re-classified balloons as litter, which triggered a $150 fine penalty for citizens who intentionally released balloons.

Balloons are one of the most common types of litter found by marine turtle permit holders on the beach. Photo credit: DB Ecological Services, Inc.

After the bill was filed, it received near-unanimous support in all of its committees and in the full House and Senate. STC, in collaboration with our coastal and ocean partner organizations, informed various audiences about the importance of the bill’s passage and advocated for its approval. As of May 13, the bill has been approved by the Legislature and awaits Governor DeSantis’ approval. STC sent a letter to the Governor urging him to sign it into law; we are hopeful that he will sign it to protect Florida’s beaches and wildlife from harmful balloon litter.

It wasn’t all good news that came from the 2024 Session, however. On May 15, Governor DeSantis signed H.B. 1645 – Energy Resources into law. This law prevents local governments from approving the placement of natural gas facilities, removes the State’s clean energy infrastructure goals, repeals the Florida Energy and Climate Protection Act, prohibits offshore wind farms in Florida, and reduces opportunities for public participation on the siting of gas pipelines. The Governor also signed S.B. 1526: Local Regulation of Nonconforming and Unsafe Structures into law in March. This law prevents local governments from setting density limitations on redevelopment in fragile coastal areas. These laws are just two examples highlighting that our work to protect Florida’s sea turtles is not done.

Although STC and its partner organizations were largely defending against problematic policies this Session, nearly all of our priority bills received the outcome that we were aiming for. This was only possible through our close partnership with the Florida environmental community, direct communication with legislators, and our public-facing outreach. We are so grateful to our large network of dedicated sea turtle supporters who spent time learning about these issues and wrote emails, made phone calls, or shared about these bills on social media. Your advocacy and passion for Florida’s sea turtles made an enormous difference during the 2024 Legislative Session.

Florida’s sea turtles continue to face threats from climate change impacts, problematic lighting, plastic pollution, poor water quality, and more. These issues will certainly come up during the 2025 Legislative Session and we will make sure to inform you about these policies and how you can help us advocate for sea turtle protection.

STC Awarded Two Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grants

Funded by a portion of revenues from Florida’s Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes funds each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education programs that benefit Florida sea turtles. In 2024, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) had two grants funded, Addressing Barriers to Lighting Compliance Through Targeted Outreach and Inspiring Sea Turtle Conservancy Action Ambassadors.

Addressing Barriers to Lighting Compliance Through Targeted Outreach

May be an image of lighting and twilight

Poorly managed coastal lighting is a leading threat to Florida’s sea turtles. For decades, numerous programs offered by scientists, government agencies, and non-profit organizations have been in place to reduce problematic lighting on Florida’s beaches. However, there is widespread agreement among stakeholders in Florida that more needs to be done to address two barriers to reducing problematic lighting: the inaccessibility of wildlife friendly products and the need to distribute sea turtle conservation messaging through coastal real estate agents. As it stands now, it is largely impossible for a coastal property representative to walk into a home improvement store and purchase wildlife friendly fixtures and lamps; they must be ordered through a lighting distributor that has existing relationships with manufacturers of wildlife friendly lighting. In addition, as more people move to Florida’s coast from out of state, it is crucial that new residents are aware of how to protect the natural resources they are inheriting; one way to reach this audience is by providing educational materials to real estate agents that sell beachfront properties and interact directly with this important audience. Over the past few years, Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) has begun to address lighting issues with targeted education and outreach. Through this project, STC will refine its home improvement store initiative, and provide the ability to expand STC’s outreach efforts and break down two important barriers to reducing sea turtle disorientations on important sea turtle nesting beaches.

Inspiring Sea Turtle Conservancy Action Ambassadors

May be an image of 4 people, people swimming and oceanThe Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center (BIC) has a responsibility to train the next generation of stewards of sea turtles and their critical nesting habitat. Sea Turtle Academy (STA) field study education programs have reached up to 3,300 students in both Brevard and Indian River Counties with support from the Sea Turtle Grants Program to provide bus scholarships and with funding for a Sea Turtle Educator. Most of these programs reach K-4 students. To broaden the age range of our audience, in 2019, STC also built the Sea Turtle TECH STEM Program to reach middle school and teen audiences during the summer. These programs show strong learning outcomes and pro-sea turtles attitude and conservation behavior shifts. However, the BIC still needs a teen program during the school year. This project will fund a Community Stewardship Coordinator and a college intern to support the STA education program, other sea turtle outreach programs, and the new STCAA program to reach students in the 11-18 year old age range during the school year. With a new Sea Turtle Conservancy Action Ambassador Program, based on the Community Action Projects for the Environment model produced by UF IFAS, we will train teens in the steps needed to succeed in collaborative projects that create systemic change. These projects may be citizen science, advocacy or stewardship oriented and will address threats to sea turtles and their habitats. These programs build the future stewards of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge by training the next generation in the skills needed to conserve sea turtles and their habitats.

Both projects are funded in whole by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

Join us for a Live Tour de Turtles Release this Summer!


2024 Tour de Turtles Live Events!

Release dates and information are subject to change. Please check back as we get closer to the event dates! All events listed below are FREE and open to the public. No registration needed!

Loggerhead Turtle Release on Anna Maria Island
Date: June 24 or 25 (release date dependent on turtle nesting)
Location: Anna Maria Island, FL
Release Time: 8:30 am EST

More info on our Facebook Event Page Here!

Green Turtle Releases in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: July 14 & 15
Location: STC Field Station, Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Release Time: 9:00 am CST (local time)

Hawksbill Turtle Releases with The Four Seasons Resort Nevis
Date: July 21, 22
Location: Pinney’s Beach, Nevis
Time: 9:00 am AST (local time)

Loggerhead Turtle Release in the Archie Carr Refuge
Date: Sunday, July 28
Location: Barrier Island Center, 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951
Release Time: 8:30 am EST (arrive by 7:30 am)

Rehab Turtle Release with The Turtle Hospital
Date: Friday, August 2
Location: Sombrero Beach, The Florida Keys
Time: 9:30 am EST


Questions about any of the Tour de Turtles events? Email

Make sure you subscribe to our E-Newsletter below or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to receive updated information regarding turtle releases.

A Fishe No More: The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation Law and Policy in Florida Part III


 A Fishe No More:

The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation Law and Policy in Florida

Part III

Thomas T. Ankersen, Professor Emeritus
University of Florida Levin College of Law
April 2024


Photo credit: State Archives of Florida.


In the early 1970s, Florida continued to struggle with managing sea turtles as a fishery, but the writing was on the wall. A booming conservation movement and increasingly sophisticated science, coupled with depleted stocks, led to the demise of the fishery. By the end of the 1970s, sea turtles were a “fishe” no more.

The Early 70s: From Commercial Fish to Protected Species – The Beginnings of Modern Florida Sea Turtle Conservation Policy

1970 mark a watershed year in the development of Florida sea turtle policy, and the beginning of the end of a legal fishery in Florida. The progenitor of what would become the Sea Turtle Protection Act began to take further shape with substantial amendments to Section 370.12, the statewide law first adopted in 1941.[i] The 1970 statute increased the fines for prohibited activities associated with nests and eggs on the beach (from $100 to $600), banned import and trade in “young sea turtles,” signaling an end to hatchery and “head-start” programs in Florida, and added leatherbacks, trunkbacks, hawksbills and Atlantic ridleys to the prohibition on take of nesting turtles and turtles within ½ mile of the shore during the nesting season. The new law also obligated the State to begin to set aside nesting beaches for conservation to control the impact of predation on nesting success (the first time in law that predation had been recognized as an issue). Finally, it created an administrative process for the State’s Department of Natural Resources to establish legal size limits, instead of relying on legislation to accomplish this management tool. All told, 1970 may be the year that marks the Sea Turtle’s transition from fisheries law to protected species law. It appears to be the first time the word “extinction” is used in state law in reference to sea turtles.

The issue of creating a minimum size limit became a contentious one, because the science for determining that size had not been established. In fisheries management, size limits are in part used as a proxy for sexual maturity and reproductive capacity. At the time the policy debate over minimum size for legal green turtle take was playing out in Tallahassee, the age, and hence size, for the species’ reproductive maturity had not been established. Nonetheless, charged by the 1970 legislation with establishing these limits, the staff of the State Board of Conservation, led by its Director of Research Robert Ingle, recommended a carapace length limit of 31 inches for Green Turtles on the Atlantic Coast and 26 inches on the Gulf Coast. At a contentious meeting of the Governor and Cabinet, which approved Board of Conservation rules, Ingle was grilled on the science for these carapace lengths, and admitted he had none – that it was essentially a compromise to keep the fishery open.[ii] At that same meeting a politically connected graduate student presented data from the Atlantic Coast on the limited green turtle nesting that occurred there and stated he had never seen a nesting green turtle less than 39 inches. Frustrated with Ingle and Board Staff, the Governor and Cabinet raised the limit to 41 inches for the Atlantic, while maintaining it at 26 inches for Gulf. It would not be until the early 1980’s that sea turtle biologists could conclude with some certainty that sexual maturity in green turtles and other species could take decades.[iii]

In 1971, Section 370.12 was again amended, this time to extend the reach of the prohibition for in-water take for all species from within ½ mile of the shoreline to within the “Territorial Waters of the State” (3 statute miles on the Atlantic Coast and 3 “leagues” or 9 nautical miles on the Gulf Coast).[iv] This prohibition applied to Loggerheads, Trunkbacks, Leatherbacks, Hawksbills and Ridleys during the nesting season. The same spatial expansion was applied to Greens, but it applied year-round to the entire East Coast, except the Florida Keys. This statute effectively ended the take of Green Turtles on Florida beaches and in Florida waters along the Atlantic Coast, except in Monroe County, where the 41-inch carapace length the Governor and Cabinet had previously established, was required to harvest Greens. Green turtles on the Gulf Coast could still be harvested but could only be taken when the carapace length exceeded 26 inches, a nod to the limited fishery that was hanging on in Cedar Key, Florida, where the Greens gathered to forage, but not to nest.[v]

Bessie Gibbs, owner of the Island Hotel in Cedar Key, holds a green turtle in 1963. Photo credit: Cedar Key Historical Society Museum. 

Context Is Important: Emerging Sea Turtle Conservation Law and Policy at The Federal and International Level

While sea turtle conservation and fishery management approaches were diverging, events were unfolding internationally and in Washington that suggested the noose was tightening on the Florida sea turtle fishery. As early as 1963, negotiations had begun on an international agreement to protect endangered and threatened wildlife.[vi] The scientific basis for these negotiations came from the work of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international conservation organization, which created the “Red Data Book,” an inventory of the conservation status and extinction risk of species worldwide begun in 1964.[vii] Archie Carr was asked to chair the Marine Turtle Specialist Group, in order to provide the science for the consideration of the inclusion of sea turtles in the Red Data Book, which occurred in 1968.[viii] IUCN’s efforts would set the stage for the 1973 passage of the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the eventual inclusion of all species of sea turtles on the lists that restricted or prohibited trade. In 1973, the Florida legislature passed a resolution encouraging the U.S. Government to “seek an international convention and agreement for the protection of the Green Sea Turtle.”[ix] Clearly the tide had turned.

In the United States, there was growing public interest and increasing concern over the survival of endangered wildlife. In 1966, Congress passed the “Endangered Species Preservation Act,” the first federal legislation on endangered species.[x] It required listing but did not create substantive obligations. In 1968, the first species were listed, including three reptiles, but no sea turtles. In 1969, the Endangered Species Preservation Act was renamed the Endangered Species Conservation Act and extended its protections to species “threatened with worldwide extinction.”[xi] In 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed three species: the hawksbill, the leatherback and the Atlantic ridley, as “threatened with worldwide extinction.”[xii] This restricted importation of these species but did not impose domestic obligations. Those obligations would come in 1973, with the passage of the Endangered Species Act as we now know it.


By the early 1970s, the Florida sea turtle fishery had been so depleted that it ceased to be of commercial interest for all but a handful of fishers in Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Interest in sea turtle aquaculture, once a promising avenue for research, had also diminished. The 1973 federal Endangered Species Act, and the 1973 International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species effectively ended both.

Coming Next

Our next blog will depart from a chronological narrative of sea turtle law and policy and focus on the history of the Florida’s approach to lighting policy. Scientific advancement has allowed us to deeply understand the role light plays in adult and hatchling orientation, both in the water and on the beach. As Florida’s beaches developed, the night skies lit up, sea turtles suffered, and the State searched for an appropriate policy response.

Digging Deeper

Blair E. Witherington, Sea Turtles: an extraordinary natural history of some uncommon turtles (2006).

Alison Rieser. The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon (2012).

Frederick D. Rowe, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles: Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (2007).

Chris Wold, The status of sea turtles under International environmental law and International environmental agreements, 5 J. of Int’l. Wildlife L. & Pol’y. 11–48 (2002) (DOI: 10.1080/13880290209353997).

Stephen P. Geiger, In Memoriam Robert M. Ingle 1917-1997. Journal of Shellfish Research, vol. 42, no. 3, Dec. 2023, pp. 343+.


This project was funded (in whole or in part) by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

[i] Ch. 70-357, 1970 Fla. Laws 1137 (“An Act relating to the protection of marine turtles; amending section 370.12(1) to make certain acts with relation to sea turtles unlawful; providing for studies of green turtles and nesting preserves to be made by the department of natural resources; prohibiting importation or sale of products made from certain turtles; providing exceptions; providing an effective date”).

[ii] The behind-the-scenes story of the politics of establishing size limits for Green Turtles is recounted in Chapter 11 of Alison Reiser’s excellent book “The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon.”

[iii] See e.g. Colin Limpus, Notes on growth rates of wild sea turtles, Marine Turtle Newsletter 10:3-5 (1979); Colin J. Limpus & David G. Walter, 1980. The growth of immature green turtles (Chelonia mydas) under natural conditions, 36(2) Herpetologica 162–165 (1980); George H. Balazs, Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles 117–125 (K. A. Bjorndal ed., Smithsonian Institution Press 1995) (“Growth rates of immature green turtles in the Hawaiian Archipelago”).

[iv] Ch. 71-145, 1971 Fla. Laws 1031 (“An ACT relating to marine turtles amending §370.12(b), Florida Statutes, as amended by chapter 70-357, Laws of Florida; providing more specific regulations concerning the taking or possessing of green turtles; redefining the area in which the taking or possessing of other marine turtles is prohibited; deleting provisions for permits to capture turtles, providing penalties; providing an effective date”).

[v] Robert M. Ingle, Summary of Florida Commercial Marine Landings, 55–62 (Fla. Dep’t. of Nat. Res., Div. of Marine Res., Bureau of Marine Sci. & Tech. 1971) (“Florida’s sea turtle industry in relation to restrictions imposed in 1971”).

[vi] Willem Wijnstekers, The Evolution of CITES 31 (2011) (available at:

[vii] See Int’l Union for Conservation of Nature Background & History,

[viii] Frederick Rowe, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles: Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology 169–180 (2007).

[ix] Senate Memorial No. 795. 1973 Fla. Laws 1346 (“A Memorial to the United States Department of State seeking an international convention and agreement for the protection of the Green Sea Turtle”).

[x] Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, Pub. L. No. 89-669, 80 Stat. 926 (available at:

[xi] Endangered Species Conservation act of 1969, Pub. L. No. 91-135 83 Stat. 275 (available at:

[xii] 35 F.R. 18319 (Dec. 2, 1970) (codified at 50 C.F.R. § 17.11).

Not For Long a Fishe: The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation Law and Policy in Florida, Part II

Not For Long a Fishe:

The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation Law and Policy in Florida, Part II

Thomas T. Ankersen, Professor Emeritus
University of Florida Levin College of Law

Photo credit: Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Florida


We ended our last blog describing the sobering report from the U.S. Fisheries Commissioner on the State of Florida Fisheries – which included sea turtles – in 1897. At a time when the State’s entire population was a little over one million, when land-based sources of pollution barely registered, and when seagrass meadows stretched unbroken across all the State’s estuaries, some fisheries already showed signs of stress. While the Commissioner reported declines in several fisheries, the most significant of these was the sea turtle, where reduced catch was reported across the state. The Commissioner stated in no uncertain terms: “The green turtle, one of the most valuable of the State’s fishery products, needs protection to prevent its extermination. The pernicious and destructive practice of gathering the eggs of this and the loggerhead should be prohibited.”[1] The Commissioner recommended a statewide ban on sea turtle harvest – on land and in the water – during the period when it seeks to the shore to lay its eggs.

Despite this stark assessment, the State continued to tinker with regulation of the turtle fishery for most of the rest of the 20th century, until the prescient Commissioner’s early warning bell nearly rang true. By the time the State took serious notice, sea turtles in Florida had effectively become commercially extinct, and were well on the way to biological extinction. In the second half of the century, scientists, led by Dr. Archie Carr, began to slowly unlock the mysteries of sea turtle biology and behavior to help to explain the rapid decline, and a small group of influential advocates organized to support his work and sea turtle conservation.

Early 20th Century Legislation: The Fisheries Issue

Photo credit: Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Florida


In 1907, the Florida Legislature enacted statewide legislation banning green and loggerhead sea turtle harvest during the nesting season, but only while the turtles were on the beach, and no mention was made of egg collection.[2] In 1913, the first of what would eventually become a slew of local fishery laws that affected sea turtles was enacted in Dade County,[3] which had just begun its meteoric early century population growth trajectory. The law banned most net fishing in Biscayne Bay but created an exception for large mesh nets for continued sea turtle capture. The law also required non-citizens to apply for a county license to fish “for-hire,” a term that typically, refers to charter fishing, including for turtles. Commercial commodity fishing similarly required a license and applied to all persons in the County.

After a nearly three-decade hiatus in sea turtle legislative developments, a statewide bill was enacted in 1941 that essentially mirrored the 1907 statute. This law created a closed season for the harvest of all loggerhead and green turtles while “such turtle is out of the waters or upon the beaches of the state during the months of May, June, July and August of each year.”[4] It did not address nests or eggs. This statute moved Florida sea turtle law into the State’s new continuous revision system of statutory codification, which began in 1941.[5] The law governing sea turtles would for a period thereafter be found in Chapter 374, Florida Statutes, titled Saltwater Fisheries (until a subsequent reorganization placed it in Chapter 370, Florida Statutes). This law was reenacted in 1949 due to a post-war hiatus in the continuous revision process.[6] Section 374.16, as amended, essentially became the basis for what we now know as the Florida Marine Turtle Protection Act.

Photo credit: Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Florida

Legislating Sea Turtle Conservation by “Whac-a-Mole”

In 1941, a local bill was enacted to protect sea turtles both in-water and on land in during the months of May, June, July, and August. The bill made it illegal to “take, destroy, mutilate, disturb, or interfere with any turtle egg or eggs, nest or nests, or any loggerhead or green turtle” during these months. The law applied to all “Counties in the Fourth Congressional District have a population greater than 39,000.”[7] At the time, this included Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. In addition to including nest and eggs, which Section 374.16 had failed to do, this local bill prohibited harvest “…from the water adjacent to and touching the State of Florida” in the three counties to which it applied – perhaps the first time in-water harvest was prohibited in Florida.

The 1941 local South Florida bill began a trend in Florida fisheries law addressing sea turtles (as well as other species) where the legislature essentially engaged in a rear-guard game of “Whac-A-Mole,” addressing declines on beaches and in nearshore waters on a county-by-county basis. It also began a curious trend of sometimes legislating local bills, not by identifying counties by their name, but by their population. This may have been the result of concern over the constitutionality of certain geographically specific local bills.[8] Because population changes over time, the law could theoretically apply to other counties as their population changed, and hence it was not truly a constitutionally suspect “local bill.” However, this practice does not appear to have been uniform as it relates to sea turtle legislation.

In 1951, a law addressed sea turtles in Brevard County, an epicenter for Loggerhead nesting, for the first time.[9] The bill was nearly identical to the 1941 law that applied by population to Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, protecting sea turtles both in-water and on land during the May through August time span. However, it expanded the period during which nests and eggs were protected to include September and October, recognizing for the first time in law that these were significant nesting months as well.

In 1953, as part of a reorganization of the Florida Statutes, the chapter on Saltwater Fisheries, first adopted in 1941 as Chapter 374, became Chapter 370 – Salt Water Fisheries and Conservation (thus adding conservation to the chapter title). The legislature included a new Section 370.12, titled “Marine Animals; regulation” and made it unlawful to “take, possess, disturb, mutilate or in anywise destroy or cause to be destroyed and marine turtle nest or eggs at any time.”[10] This law differed from the general law that had carried forward from the original codification in 1941 and recodification in 1949 in one important way. It only addressed eggs and nests, seemingly leaving protection of turtles on nesting beaches or in-water to county-by-county local laws – a slew of which followed.

In 1955, legislatively mandated prohibitions on taking both sea turtles and/or their eggs during May through August were enacted for Martin County, with no distinction made for land or water. In that same year, local bills were also enacted (via the population-based method) that applied uniquely to Flagler, Brevard, St. Johns, and Sarasota Counties. The inclusion of Sarasota County marked the first time that west coast sea turtle populations were addressed. In 1957, Indian River County and St. Lucie County were similarly addressed.

1957 also marked significant developments in the general law addressing sea turtles statewide. Section 370.12 rectified the omission of sea turtles from the 1953 law prohibiting taking or tampering with their eggs and nests. The 1957 amendment added a Section 2 to the statute, and made it unlawful to “take, kill, possess, mutilate or in any way destroy any loggerhead or green turtle or other turtle while such turtle is on the beaches of Florida or within ½ mile seaward from the beaches during the months of May, June, July and August.”[11] In addition to adding this new spatially defined in-water protection, the statute expanded the protections to include other species. Thus, for the first time, Hawksbill, Leatherbacks and Atlantic ridley sea turtles were also protected.

As counties grew, the population-based method of legislating local fishery laws required new special laws for those counties that “grew out of” the existing local law. These new local laws sometimes reflected new developments in conservation, and sometimes seemed duplicative of the 1957 statewide statute – Section 370.12. In 1959, the Legislature prohibited the take, possession, and sale (or offer for sale) and transport of sea turtles or eggs during the May – August nesting season. This law applied to all species of sea turtles and their eggs and also prohibited sale, offer of sale and transport of sea turtles and their eggs, new restrictions in the evolving law. Identical language was used for local laws specific to Broward County, Palm Beach County, Martin County, Brevard County Volusia County, Duval County, Nassau County. That same year a special population-based local bill was enacted prohibiting spear fishing sea turtles, which applied only to Citrus County on Florida’s west coast. This marked the second time a Gulf Coast County came under specific regulation, and the first time spearing was prohibited anywhere.[12] In 1963, the second local law prohibiting spearfishing passed in the Upper Keys of Monroe County.[13]

Dr. Archie Carr, founding Scientific Director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The 1950s and The Rise of Modern Sea Turtle Science

As sea turtles continued their decline in Florida, and the state legislature continued to engage in its “Whac-A-Mole” approach to regulation of the fishery, a young zoologist at the University of Florida named Archie Carr began to narrow his research focus to sea turtles and slowly unpacked the mysterious life history of these enigmatic animals. Little was known of the once-ubiquitous species that frequented Florida waters and beaches to nest and forage. Over the course of the decade (and beyond), Carr laid the foundation for the science and policy that was to come. Beginning with an article titled “The Zoogeography and Migrations of Sea Turtles” in 1954,[14] Carr, colleagues and students published a series of articles that shed early light on sea turtle life history and behavior that would later be used to craft policy, including, migration, homing, sexual maturity, site fidelity, mating, predation, light sensitivity, and hatchling orientation among others. Titled the “Ecology and Migration of Sea Turtles,” and carried on by his students, the eight-part series spans a half a century.  The first, published in 1956, focused on Florida, and on the population of juvenile non-breeding green turtles that supported the Cedar Key green turtle fishery.[15]

By the time Carr began his research on sea turtles, nesting green turtles had already all but disappeared from Florida’s beaches. The first confirmed reports of green turtle nesting in Florida in more than half a century were recorded in 1957 in Indian River County and in 1958 in Martin County.[16] In each case, only a single turtle was recorded. Nonetheless, these confirmed reports, and anecdotal evidence, led Carr to suspect that Florida’s Atlantic Coast had once been a significant rookery for green turtles.

While Carr is justly regarded as the foundational figure in Florida sea turtle science, others also played significant roles in the early efforts to understand the biology and behavior of sea turtles, and to manage the fishery. Robert Ingle, a towering figure in Florida fisheries management more broadly, played a significant role in the development of state sea turtle policy. Ingle was the first marine biologist hired by the State of Florida in 1949 and would go on to become Director of Research for the Florida State Board of Conservation Marine Laboratory [17], which would eventually become the highly respected Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. A passionate advocate for conservation, and for fisheries management, Ingle cut his teeth on sea turtle research.[18] Later in his career, he had to grapple with the lack of understanding of the biology and behavior of sea turtles while attempting to maintain a fishery in decline largely due to that lack of understanding.


The 1950s and the Origin Story of Sea Turtle Advocacy

 As researchers like Archie Carr continued to reveal the mysteries of sea turtle biology and behavior that made for such an unsustainable fishery, concern for the sea turtle’s well-being spilled over into the public. Carr’s award-winning book “The Windward Road,”[19] accessible to a broad audience, served as the catalyst for the storied and well-chronicled formation of the “Brotherhood of the Green Turtle,” in 1958. Smitten by Carr’s book, Joshua Powers formed the Brotherhood to create a well-heeled and well-positioned group to support Carr’s work and publicize the plight of sea turtles. Carr biographer, Frederick Rowe Davis, credits the organization for creating a space for sea turtle advocacy so Carr would be able to continue to pursue government funded research without being entangled in the politics of conservation.[20] The organization’s early advocacy work focused on international activity and contributed to protection of the nesting beach in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, the most prolific nesting beach in the Wider Caribbean, and the focus of Carr’s early research. Carr speculated that Tortuguero was the source of the green turtle diaspora throughout the Caribbean, including Florida. The Brotherhood of the Green Turtle would later become the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), and eventually the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), headquartered in Gainesville, Florida. CCC/STC would become a powerful force in the development of sea turtle policy in Florida, the United States and internationally.

A carbon copy of Joshua Power’s initial invitation to the Brotherhood of the Green Turtle. Photo credit: Sea Turtle Conservancy


The 20th century turned out to be an exercise in management futility as Florida sought to maintain a sea turtle fishery in the absence of sufficient understanding of sea turtle biology and behavior. County by county, the State adopted local law after local law attempting to restrict sea turtle and egg harvest where it was occurring, to no avail. Taking of turtles and eggs remained rampant. In the 1950s the plight of the turtle captured the attention of biologists who began to slowly unpack the science needed for management. It had become increasingly clear that sea turtles were wide-ranging, subject to depredation on foreign seas and shores, and matured slowly. At the same time, the world’s first non-governmental sea turtle advocacy organization, The Brotherhood of the Green Turtle, was established to support the work of Dr. Archie Carr, and to advocate for sea turtles throughout their range. By 1970, the tide began to turn – just in time.


Coming Next: “A Fishe No More”

 Our final early history blog will explore the transition of sea turtle policy from one based in fisheries management to one based in protected species management. This transition did not occur in a vacuum. Across the globe the threat of species extinction loomed, and policymakers faced a growing chorus of environmental activism. Against this backdrop, Sea Turtles in Florida would soon become “A Fishe No More.”


Digging Deeper

 Frederick R. Davis, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (2007).

Archie F. Carr, The Windward Road Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores (1956).

Archie F. Carr, The Sea Turtle: So Excellente a Fishe (Univ. Presses of Fla., 2011).

Cory M. Malcom, The History and Archaeology of the Key West Turtle Fishing Industry, Mel Fisher Mar. Heritage Soc’y, (2013)

W.N. Witzell, The Origin, Evolution and Demise of the U.S. Sea Turtle Fisheries, 56(4) Marine Fisheries Rev. 8-23 (1994).



This project was funded (in whole or in part) by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

[1] John J. Brice, The Fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida: Letter from the commissioner of fish and fisheries, transmitting in response to Senate resolution of February 15, 1895, a report of the fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida, S. Doc. No. 54-100 (1897) (available at Biodiversity Heritage Library,

[2] Act of 1907, ch. 5669, 1907 Fla. Laws 167 (“An ACT to Protect Logger Head and Green Turtles on the Coasts of the State of Florida”).

[3] Act of 1913, ch. 6574 – No. 74, 1913 Fla. Laws, 28 (“An ACT to Regulate the Catching of Fish and Turtle in Dade County Florida”).

[4] Fla. Stat. §374.16 (1941) (Closed season for loggerhead or green turtle while out of the water; Penalty.)

[5] See George A. Dietz, Sketch of the evolution of Florida law, 3(1) Fla. L. Rev., 74-82 (1950).

[6] Id. at 79. Also see Fla. Stat. §374.16 (1949) (Closed season for loggerhead or green turtle while out of the water; Penalty.)

[7] Act of 1941, ch. 20887-No. 679, 1941 Fla. Laws 2357—58 (“An ACT for the Protection of Loggerhead and Green Turtles and Eggs and Nests of Such Turtles in all Counties in the Fourth Congressional District of the State of Florida Having a Population of More than 39,000…”).

[8] Edward M. Jackson, Florida’s General Laws of Special or Local Application, 10(1) Fla. L. Rev. 90—97 (1957); Douglass D. Batchelor, Population Statutes Under the Florida Constitution, 1 U. Miami L. Rev. 97 (1947) (Available at:

[9]. Act of 1953, Ch. 27415 – No. 936, 1953 Fla. Laws 299 (“An ACT for the Protection of Loggerhead and Green Turtles, and Eggs and Nests of Such Turtles, in Brevard County, Florida, and Providing a Penalty for the Violation of the Act”).

[10] Fla. Stat. §370.12 (1953).

[11]Act of 1957, ch. 57-771, 1957 Fla. Laws 1091 (An ACT relating to Saltwater Fisheries Conservation; prohibiting the taking, killing, possessing or mutilating of any sea turtle within a certain distance from the beaches of Florida during a certain period and providing penalties for violations) (codified at Fla. Stat. § 370.12 (1957)).

[12] Act of 1959, Ch.59-927, 1959 Fla. Laws 498—99 (An ACT relating to all counties having a population of not less than six thousand one hundred (6,100) nor more than six thousand three hundred (6,300) according to the latest official state-wide decennial census; prohibiting the gigging or spearing of green turtles; providing a penalty; providing an effective date).

[13] Act of 1963, ch. 63-1662, 1963 Laws of Florida 2328—29 (“An ACT relating to and prohibiting spearfishing in salt waters lying in and adjacent to certain areas of Monroe County providing for penalty; providing for a referendum providing an effective date”).

[14] Archie F. Carr, The Zoogeograpy and Migrations of Sea Turtles, Year Book of the Am. Phil. Soc’y, 138—40 (1954).

[15] Archie F. Carr & David K. Caldwell, The Ecology and Migrations of Sea Turtles, 1: Results of Field Work in Florida, 1955, Am. Museum Novitates; no. 1793. (1956).

[16] Archie F. Carr & Robert Ingle, The Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas Mydas) in Florida, 9(3) Bull. of Marine Sci. of the Gulf and Caribbean 315-20. (1959).

[17] Stephen P. Geiger, In Memoriam Robert M. Ingle 1917–1997, 42(3) J. of Shellfish Rsch. 343—50 (2023).

[18] Robert M. Ingle & F. G. Walton Smith, Sea turtles and the turtle industry of the West Indies, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico (1949).

[19] Archie F. Carr, The Windward Road Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores (1956).

[20] Frederick R. Davis, The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology (2007).

SB 1126/HB 1641: Regulation of Auxiliary Containers Threatens Florida’s Sea Turtles

A bill moving quickly through the Florida Legislature, SB 1126/HB 1641 – Regulation of Auxiliary Containers, would ban all local governments in Florida from regulating any kind of container that is used to transport merchandise, food, or beverages, including single-use plastic. The bill also proposes to cancel the update of the State’s retail bag study, which would analyze the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.

The science is clear that plastic pollution is a major threat to sea turtles at every life stage. Microplastics are having an impact on sand incubation temperatures[1]; hatchlings are consuming it as soon as they leave the nest and make it to sea[2]; and adults are ingesting plastic at an alarming rate, leading to mortality.[3] The only way to effectively reduce this threat is to cut off plastic pollution at the source. Local governments across the State have witnessed this need and responded accordingly by limiting single-use plastic, foam, and more. This bill could make it even harder for Florida’s threatened and endangered sea turtles to recover.

In addition to protecting the marine environment, reducing plastic pollution makes economic sense. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, recreational activity along our coasts brings in hundreds of billions of dollars and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs each year.[4] Millions of people visit the State each year to enjoy our beaches, springs, lakes, and rivers; their patronage is dependent on the health of these iconic natural areas. By allowing plastic pollution to enter our environment without limits, the value of our natural resources to visitors will be greatly diminished.

Finally, the passage of this bill could prevent Floridians from avoiding harmful single-use plastic. Scientists have learned that microplastics are in their air that we breathe[5], the food we consume[6], the water we drink[7], and they have even been found in breastmilk[8]. Local government limits on single-use plastic allow for businesses to rethink the packaging materials they use to transport goods, which is beneficial to human health.

Action needed now: HB 1641 will be heard in the FL House State Affairs Committee on February 14 at 9 a.m. We ask that you email or call committee members and urge them to vote NO on HB 1641. Their contact information can be found here:

Chair McClure:, (850) 717-5068
Vice Chair Caruso:, (850) 717-5087
Representative Alvarez:, (850) 717-5069
Representative Rayner:, (850) 717-5062
Representative Bartleman:, (850) 717-5103
Representative Black:, (850) 717-5015
Representative Buchanan:, (850) 717-5074
Representative Busatta Cabrera:, (850) 717-5114
Representative Casello:, (850) 717-5090
Representative Eskamani:, (850) 717-5042
Representative Fabricio:, (850) 717-5110
Representative Gantt:, (850) 717-5109
Representative Griffitts, Jr,:, (850) 717-5006
Representative Holcomb:, (850) 717-5053
Representative Mooney:, (850) 717-5120
Representative Persons-Mulicka:, (850) 717-5078
Representative Porras:, (850) 717-5119
Representative Roach:, (850) 717-5076
Representative Robinson:, (850) 717-5104
Representative Roth:, (850) 717-5094
Representative Temple:, (850) 717-5052



[1] FSU Researchers: Hotter Sand from Microplastics Could Affect Sea Turtle Development

[2] Plastic Ingestion in Post-hatchling Sea Turtles: Assessing a Major Threat in Florida Near Shore Waters

[3] A quantitative analysis linking sea turtle mortality and plastic debris ingestion

[4] Investing in Florida’s Coastal & Oceans Futures – FDEP

[5] How microplastics are transported and deposited in realistic upper airways

[6] It’s Not Just Seafood: New Study Finds Microplastics in Nearly 90% of Proteins Sampled, Including Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

[7] Why you may be eating and drinking more microplastics than you thought

[8] Microplastics found in human breast milk for the first time

Help us Raise $65,000 for STC’s In-Water Program this Giving Tuesday

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is hoping all of its supporters will participate in this year’s Giving Tuesday Campaign, which seeks to raise funds for the critical in-water work we are doing to study and conserve sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Though not as well-known as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, which occurs the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28 this year), is one day when everyone can join together to make a huge difference.

For Giving Tuesday last year, STC supporters raised $60,000 for STC’s research and conservation programs in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. STC has set its sights even higher this year, with a goal of raising $65,000, which we are confident we can reach thanks to generous pledges from STC’s Board of Directors to match up to $33,000 for every dollar donated.

STC’s In-Water Research Project in Florida has been in high gear over the last several years. The project, led by STC Biologist Rick Herren in collaboration with Dr. Ray Carthy at University of Florida’s (UF) USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, recently surpassed 300 sea turtle captures in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. The overall goals are to study sea turtle distribution, demographics, health, movements, and threats in this important foraging habitat and to promote their conservation in the region.

Our research team is working on a variety of studies in collaboration with UF graduate students. We are finishing up three projects we began in 2019. These include an estimate of species abundance and distribution throughout Florida’s Big Bend, a comparison of juvenile green turtle demographics between three widely separated foraging grounds, and a study of green turtle movement and behavior during the winter. Last year, we began working with a UF graduate student studying green turtle fibropapillomatosis or FP, which is a debilitating tumor-bearing disease linked to poor water quality. We also began studying green turtle health and diet using point-of-care devices to analyze blood gases and blood chemistry values in the field. These measurements can be used as reference values for the medical management of sea turtles under veterinary care and as a comparison with sea turtles at other developmental foraging grounds. Lastly, we are studying the movements and behavior of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in a warming Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to our research we are engaging more with the wonderful people who live in Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle. The Big Bend or Nature Coast is one of the least developed coastlines in Florida. We are working on a new education campaign to connect with residents and visitors alike on the importance of this coast for sea turtles and what they can do to help them survive in the future. As part of this work, STC is set to release a handy new smart phone app that will allow people to report turtle sightings on the water and provide STC with useful information for locating new sea turtle foraging hot spots.

STC is deeply appreciative of all the support received from various corporate and private donors for the project. Our current project needs include a dedicated truck for towing our boat to and from various research sites, which will have the added benefit of allowing STC to respond quickly to turtle stranding events, such as cold stuns. We raised money in the past for this purpose, but during the pandemic truck prices shot up so high we are still short of our need.

We are hopeful that STC’s members will support the program this Giving Tuesday, when all donations will be matched 1:1 by the STC Board of Directors. With your support, STC will continue filling gaps in our knowledge about the sea turtle populations found in this important region, and we will apply that knowledge to effective conservation action.

Help support STC’s Giving Tuesday Fundraiser by donating in one of three ways:
1. Online at or
2. Call 352-373-6441 with your credit card info
3. Mail a check with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line. All checks received with “Giving Tuesday” in the subject line will count towards the campaign if received by December 31.

So Excellent a Fishe: The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation in Florida

So Excellent a Fishe:

The Early History of Sea Turtle Conservation in Florida

Part I

Thomas T. Ankersen, Professor Emeritus

University of Florida Levin College of Law


New York Public Library Digital Collections, (accessed 6 June 2020).

Introduction – When is a turtle a fish?

Long before sea turtles were revered as charismatic megafauna worthy of protection in their own right, they were a valuable source of protein that could be counted on by both indigenous cultures and early colonial maritime powers.[1] In 1513, Ponce de Leon reputedly reprovisioned with more than one hundred sea turtles for his return to Spain at a tiny archipelago south of Key West.[2] He would name them “Las Tortugas”(The Turtle Islands), and they would become a part of Spanish Florida. As the colonial powers overwhelmed tropical regions, decimating indigenous populations, sea turtles quickly grew in importance as a commodity for both local and transatlantic trade. This led to the gradual development of a fisheries-based approach to sea turtle conservation.

The Colonial Era – “So Excellente a Fish”

The regulation of sea turtles in western culture dates to at least 1620 when the British colonial government of Bermuda bemoaned the wanton destruction of the Green Turtles that found their way north to the tiny British island protectorate, attracted by lush sea grass beds and near tropical waters the Gulf Stream. The Old English text from a 1620 Bermudian law, titled “AN ACT AGYNST THE KILLINGE OF OUER YOUNG TORTOYSES,” provided both the title and the forward to Archie Carr’s collection of natural history essays titled “So Excellente a Fishe.”[3] Management of sea turtles as a fishery would serve as the basis for sea turtle “conservation” for the next 350 years, until global depletion of sea turtle populations rendered them commercially extinct, and the global species protection movement of the early 1970s rescued them from biological extinction. While it is beyond the scope of this project to trace the colonial lineage of sea turtle exploitation, suffice it to say trade in sea turtles quickly followed the westward expansion of the great colonial powers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[4]


Hunt on sea turtles. Philips Galle (attributed to..), after Hans Bol, 1582-1633, engraving, 215 x 81 mm. (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, RP-P-OB-6647


Florida’s Territorial Years (1821-1845): Florida-First Protectionism

Efforts to regulate trade in sea turtles in Florida predate statehood. As the newly independent United States of America added Florida as a territory in 1821, a variety of maritime conflicts arose with its close neighbor, the British colony of the Bahamas. During Spanish rule, Bahamian fishermen had been accustomed to fishing in Florida waters, and hunting turtles and their eggs on Florida beaches. As conflict between the new U.S. Territory and the neighboring crown colony mounted, the Governor of the Bahamas reached out to the U.S. State Department to negotiate a treaty with the United States to allow Bahamian fishermen to continue taking turtles from U.S. and Florida waters and beaches.[5] Florida’s territorial governor implored the U.S. to ignore this request and protect what he regarded as a valuable economic asset to the Territory, and within the authority of the Territory to regulate for its own interests.[6]

At the same time, the Territorial government enacted Florida’s first sea turtle management law – “An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coasts of Florida, and to Raise Revenue Therefrom.”[7] The law required foreign vessels to register in Florida, and to land their catch – including sea turtles – in Florida. These requirements greatly diminished Bahamian interest in fishing in Territorial waters. The Territorial Governor was authorized to name one or more “fish commissioners” to implement the law. Interestingly, the law also forbade fishermen from employing, trading, or taking on board Seminole Indians, some of whom had just concluded the Treaty to end the First Seminole Indian War. Penalties for violating the Fisheries Act included fines and vessel forfeiture. Over the ensuing years, many Bahamian turtle fishers took residence in Florida to continue to fish the State’s waters.[8] Even so, entreaties for fishery access from the Bahamian government to the U.S. government continued (albeit without success), as the issue of fishing and turtles grew increasingly enmeshed in concerns over slavery (prohibited in the Bahamas), aid and comfort to the Seminoles (the Seminole Indian Wars raged in this period), and illegal competition for “wrecking” rights (salvage).[9]


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. “Shelling” Turtles.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1855.


Statehood (1845) – 19th Century: Protectionism – Florida first

When Florida became a state in 1845, it re-adopted many of its territorial laws to reflect the new sovereign state’s administrative and judicial framework, including the 1832 Territorial Fisheries Act. [10] Provisions of the law that addressed the Seminoles were tightened to preclude any interactions with the Tribe by fishers.

In 1860, all prior fisheries laws were repealed, and a new law was enacted.[11] Provisions regarding the Seminoles were dropped as the issue’s immediacy faded. A new provision in the 1860 law clarified the State’s maritime jurisdiction and prohibited out of state vessels from taking fish or turtles in waters within “one marine league” (three nautical miles) of the coast, which at the time was also considered the limits of the U.S. Territorial Sea (it is now 12 miles).

Additionally, the 1860 fisheries law specifically prohibited any person, citizen, or non-resident, from “catching fish for the roes only, or turtles for the eggs only, or in any manner wantonly destroying the fish or turtle on the coast of this State.” Under this statute, even resident Floridians were prohibited from engaging in these activities, perhaps reflecting concerns over the biological significance of gravid adults to the population at large. Throughout this period, until the turn of the century, the State of Florida continued a turtle fishery policy premised largely on vessel licensing. In 1874, the State imposed a licensing requirement on all vessels fishing for turtle, oysters, and sponges, with escalating fees by weight beginning with boats greater than 10 tons.[12] By the turn of the century, pressure on turtle and other fisheries began to manifest in diminished harvests, catching the attention of federal fisheries managers. The State’s population at the time was scarcely half of million.

‘Central America: Spearing Green Turtle on the Musquito [I.E. Mosquito] Coast’.
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, (accessed 6 June 2020).


An Early Wake-Up Call: The 1897 Fisheries Report

A remarkable 1897 congressionally mandated report on the fisheries of Florida sounded the first alarm on overfishing of sea turtles (and other species) in the state and presaged the passage of what was likely the first law to protect nesting sea turtles in the state in 1907. The report, titled “The Fish and Fisheries of the Coastal Waters of the State of Florida” and written by United States Commissioner of Fisheries J.J. Brice, surveyed the status of the State’s fisheries, including the turtle fishery.[13] The report suggests a rudimentary but growing knowledge of sea turtle nesting behavior – discounting one theory that female turtles return to the beach to escort their hatchlings back to the sea.

Referring to the Green Turtle, the report states: “Overfishing and the destruction of its eggs have greatly reduced its abundance in this State, and the annual catch is now much less than formerly.”

Beyond the reduction in numbers of turtles, the report also highlights a drop in average weight of landed turtles, noting that in some parts of the state “where fishing has been excessive… it is under 50 pounds.” The report identifies the major centers of turtle fishing at the time, including: the Indian River Lagoon area, Biscayne Bay, Key West and the Lower Keys, Tampa Bay, and the Cedar Keys, noting its decline in each and their effective demise in Tampa Bay.

The report concludes: “The Green Turtle, one of the State’s most valuable fishery products, needs protection to prevent its extermination.” The report recommended a moratorium on taking turtles during the nesting season, creating a minimum weight limit to protect juvenile turtles, and a prohibition on “the pernicious and destructive practice of gathering the eggs of [Green] and loggerhead turtles.” Despite this dire warning, both the harvest and the resulting population decline continued. At the time, the state was home to only 500,000 people. Clearly, there was something about the nature of the sea turtle’s biology which did not lend itself to continuing harvest.

In 1907, the Florida legislature acted on part of one of the Report’s conclusions and passed a statute prohibiting taking, killing, mutilating or “in any wise destroying any logger head [sic] or green turtle while any such turtle is laying or found out of the waters or upon the beaches of the State of Florida during the months of May, June, July and August of any year.”[14] The 1897 U.S. Fish Commissioner’s Report had not distinguished land from water in its recommendation, but the state legislature chose only to limit harvest on land. Despite its impact on the turtle population, in-water turtle fishing during the nesting season would continue well into the 20th century, much to the chagrin of prominent sea turtle biologists such as Archie Carr.


Coming Next

In our next blog post, we will track the sporadic development of geographically localized sea turtle legislation in the early to mid-20th century, as legislators sought to satisfy the needs of the fishery, while attempting to address continuing declines in sea turtles in Florida. We will then turn to the growing movement to protect sea turtles in Florida and globally, as calls to protect imperiled species more generally gained momentum and scientists gained a deeper understanding of sea turtle biology.

Digging Deeper

Readers interested in digging deeper into the literature on sea turtle during the Age of Exploration, the Colonial Era and early Florida history can find more in several excellent publications.

Alison Rieser. The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon, 2012.

James Parsons. The Green Turtle and Man. (Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1962. 

Archie Carr. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1995.

Robert M. Ingle. Sea Turtles and the Turtle Industry of the West Indies, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, University of Miami Press, 1974.

Karl Offen. “Subsidy from Nature: Green Sea Turtles in the Colonial Caribbean.” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 2020.


[1] See generally Karl Offen, Subsidy from Nature: Green Sea Turtles in the Colonial Caribbean, 19 J. of Latin Am. Geography, Jan. 2020, at 182,; Lynn B. Harris, Maritime Cultural Encounters and Consumerism of Turtles and Manatees: An Environmental History of the Caribbean, 32 Int’l J. of Mar. Hist., November 2020, at 789,

[2] Donna J. Souza, The Persistence of Sail in the Age of Steam (1998)(Chapter 9, The Dry Tortugas).  The Tortugas would later become the Dry Tortugas to remind sailors there was no freshwater on the islands.

[3] Archie Carr, So Excellent a Fishe: The Natural History of the Sea Turtle (2011).

[4] For a depiction of the sea turtles in the age of exploration through an artistic lens, see Erma Hermens, Crossing and Turning: the Sea Turtle Trade in the 17th Century, Looking Through Art Blog (June 3, 2020),

[5] The Territorial Papers of the United States (The Territory of Florida, 1828-1834), 24 The Nat’l Archives, 557 (1959).

[6] Report of James D. Westcott, Jr., Secretary & Acting Governor to Territorial Legislative Council Journal of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council, 10th Sess., at 5, (Jan. 2, 1832).

[7] An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coasts of Florida, and to raise revenue therefrom, 57 Acts of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, at 82 (1832).

[8] Alison Reiser, The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon 21-22 (2012).

[9] 32d Cong., 2d. Sess. Executive Documents of the United States, (1852-53).

[10] An Act for the Protection of the Fisheries on the Coast of Florida, ch. 34,1845 Fla. Laws 67.

[11] An Act to Regulate Fishing on the Coast of the State of Florida, ch. 1,121, 1860 Fla. Laws 67.

[12] An Act for the Assessment and Collection of Revenue, ch. 1976, 1874 Fla. Laws 13.

[13] John Jones Brice, The Fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida: Letter from the commissioner of fish and fisheries, transmitting in response to Senate resolution of February 15, 1895, a report of the fish and fisheries of the coastal waters of Florida, S. Doc. No. 54-100 (1897) (via Biodiversity Heritage Library, )

[14] An Act to Protect Logger Head and Green Turtles on the Coasts of the State of Florida, ch. 5669, 1907 Fla. Laws 167.


This project was funded (in whole or in part) by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at


Wanted: Sea Turtle Photos for STC’s 2024 Calendar!

Calling all photographers! Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is looking for talented photographers (amateur or professional) for our annual Sea Turtle Calendar Contest! The sea turtle calendar reminds people throughout the year that sea turtles need our help to survive, and it includes important sea turtle dates like World Sea Turtle Day, Earth Day and World Oceans Day. Contributing to the calendar is a great way to help spread the word about sea turtle conservation!

We had an amazing calendar filled with beautiful images last year, and we are looking forward to the great submissions for next year’s calendar! We are only accepting photograph submissions for the 2024 calendar, NO artwork.

Photo submissions along with the Photography Permission Form should be sent to no later than September 22, 2023 and must follow the criteria below:

  • Include photographer’s name, brief description of the image, location, date it was taken, and Photography Permission Form
  • Image must be submitted by the actual photographer or include written permission for submission from the photographer.
  • Image must show turtles in a natural setting and follow turtle-friendly guidelines (i.e. no flash images of nesting sea turtles, no images of people handling sea turtles, etc.)
  • Initial email submissions should be a small file (no larger than 10 MB) but a high resolution version of the image must be available for final printing if selected.
  • Photographers may only enter a maximum of three photographs.

The winners will be announced in STC’s monthly e-newsletter (Sea Turtle Talk), website and Facebook. Each winner will receive two free calendars and an STC t-shirt!

By submitting your image to before September 22, you are granting STC rights to use your photography for the 2023 Sea Turtle Scenes Calendar and other STC education and promotional initiatives. STC will not distribute your image without your written permission.

If you’re interested in submitting a photo, you must include the Photography Permission Form in your submission. Good luck!

STC to Explore the Legal and Policy History of Sea Turtle Conservation in Florida

Dating back to its territorial past, Florida has played a major role in the global development of sea turtle protection policy – and the science that supports it. Over the next year STC will tell this story through an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap, which will contain a curated timeline, a series of articles (in blog format), and accompanying social media posts, all based on original research, including oral history interviews. The project will be led by University of Florida Law Professor Emeritus Thomas T. Ankersen and Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) Development and Policy Coordinator Stacey Gallagher.

With more than 22 million residents and more than 100 million yearly visitors, Florida’s fast-track growth and development policy has always challenged its ability to protect the nature that brought people to the state in the first place. Nowhere is this truer than along the coast.

Children watch a loggerhead sea turtle lay eggs in Jensen Beach, FL in 1970. Photo credit: State Archives of FL, FL Memory

According to NOAA, about three-quarters of the state’s population live along the coast. This makes sea turtles especially vulnerable to a host of man-made threats, including disorienting coastal lighting, degraded water quality, unforgiving sea walls and other forms of armoring, vessel strikes, and, perhaps most confounding, climate change.

The state’s development trajectory from a backwater frontier to a thriving modern economy, built in large part on its coasts and climate, has made it an ideal laboratory for the development of sea turtle conservation science and policy. As a result, Florida’s sea turtles have played an outsized role in shaping state, federal and international environmental and fisheries law, as well as coastal management and resiliency policy. And, of course, Florida is the intellectual home to the pioneering science and advocacy that has provided, and continues to provide, the underpinnings of policy development.

These protection efforts took years of science-based advocacy, research, and education by dedicated individuals in the sea turtle community – many of whom are no longer here to tell the story of how the protection laws or policies were established. Those scientists, agency personnel and advocates still working in the trenches have little time to reflect on the state’s contribution to sea turtle protection law and policy. Recognizing this, STC is excited to embark on this project, not only for the historical record, but to motivate and inform future leaders in sea turtle conservation.

Funded by the Sea Turtle Grants Program, the final product will live on the STC website.  The first installment will explore the rise and demise of the sea turtle fishery in Florida, beginning with an early eighteenth century dispute over access to the fishery between the territory of Florida and The Bahamas.

Make sure to check STC’s website and social media pages for periodic updates.

About the Authors

Stacey Gallagher has been a development coordinator and sea turtle lighting specialist at STC for six years. Stacey participates in education and outreach on behalf of sea turtles and their habitats and regularly mobilizes the support of STC’s followers and members, local marine turtle permit holders, and other stakeholders for the protection of Florida’s sea turtles. By hosting presentations at conferences, virtual webinars for coastal code enforcement personnel, and events for the general public, Stacey raises the alarm of the plight of sea turtles and provides ways for audiences to reduce threats to their survival. Stacey’s academic and employment backgrounds were focused on mass communication and journalism, and Stacey uses those skills every day to inspire various audiences to take conservation action.


Thomas T. Ankersen is Director Emeritus of the Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. While at UF he also directed the Coastal Policy Lab in the Center for Coastal Solutions at the University of Florida and Florida Sea Grant’s Legal Program. Ankersen has helped to craft state and local legislation and rules concerning sea turtle lighting protection, coastal armoring and coastal resiliency. Ankersen has also worked on international sea turtle conservation policy in the wider Caribbean, especially Costa Rica and the Bahamas. He helped draft and negotiate the 1998 Sea Turtle Conservation Agreement between Costa Rica and Panama, a legacy of the late Dr. Archie Carr. In addition to a law degree from the University of Florida, Ankersen has a Master’s Degree in History from the University of South Florida.


ALERT – Brevard Barrier Island Protection Bill Signed Into Law!

We are thrilled to announce that Florida House Bill 1489, a bill designating the southern area of Brevard County as an Area of Critical State Concern, was signed into law by the Governor yesterday!

Brevard County’s south beaches join only five other areas in Florida with this designation, including the Florida Keys, Key West, Big Cypress, the Green Swamp and the Apalachicola Bay area.

This new protection area contains the entirety of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20.5-mile section of shoreline between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach – the most important sea turtle nesting beach in the United States. It also contains the Indian River Lagoon, an important estuary, recreational fishery, and developmental habitat for sea turtles.

The law requires state, regional, and local government agencies to prevent the adverse impacts of development on resources critical to sea turtle habitat. This includes prohibiting new shoreline hard armoring, reducing nutrient pollution to improve water quality, supporting nature-based solutions to restore habitat, ensuring that development is compatible with the barrier island’s natural resources, and more. Read the full language here.

After learning about efforts to increase development density on Brevard’s South Beaches earlier this year, Sea Turtle Conservancy worked with Barrier Island Protection and Preservation Association (BIPPA), 1000 Friends of Florida, and Brevard County legislators to help draft and advocate for this legislation. At every committee stop, including the full House and Senate, the bill passed unanimously. We believe this was due to the overwhelming feedback legislators received from community members and supporters about the bill.

We thank Representative Thad Altman and Senator Tom Wright for filing this legislation, as well as their staff aides who helped usher the legislation through the process. The bills had strong support from the entire Brevard County legislative delegation. We are also grateful to our conservation partners, legislators, local community members, and our dedicated supporters who helped contribute to this victory for sea turtles!

STC Awarded two Florida Sea Turtle License Plate Grants

Funded by a portion of revenues from Florida’s Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes funds each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education programs that benefit Florida sea turtles. In 2022, Sea Turtle Conservancy had two educational grants funded, A Legal and Policy History of Sea Turtle Conservation in Florida and Threats to Sea Turtles Mobile Educational Display.

A Legal and Policy History of Sea Turtle Conservation in Florida involves STC telling the story of Florida playing a major role in the global development of sea turtle protection policy, and the science that supports it, through an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap, which will contain a curated timeline, a series of articles (in blog format), and accompanying social media posts, all based on original research, including oral history interviews. You can read more about this project here.

Threats to Sea Turtles Mobile Educational Display funds new educational traveling displays that can be setup at events, meetings and conferences. STC developed a high-quality event display that highlights the threats to Florida’s sea turtles and provides simple actions that Florida’s citizens can take to help protect sea turtles. The display will include graphics, easy to read text, and a video monitor to loop existing educational videos that cover a range of threats to sea turtles, including inappropriate coastal development, artificial lighting, year-round boat traffic, accidental capture during recreational fishing and by-catch in commercial fisheries.

Both projects are funded in whole by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at

Sea Turtle Grants Program Awards $490,000 to Conservation Projects in Florida

The Sea Turtle Grants Program (STGP), funded by the sale of Florida’s “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, recently awarded $490,892.07 to 30 different projects benefiting Florida sea turtles as part of the 2023-2024 grant funding cycle. Since it’s inception, the Sea Turtle License Plate Grants Program has awarded more than $7 million to conservation projects.

Each year, the Sea Turtle Grants Program distributes money to coastal county governments, educational and research institutions and nonprofit groups through a competitive application process. The sea turtle specialty license plate is also the primary source of funding for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program.

The following organizations received grants for their approved projects for the 2023-2024 cycle:

ACTION ALERT! Encourage Florida Legislators to Support the Balloon Release Ban in 2023

A major threat to sea turtles is the ingestion of or entanglement with marine debris, including single-use balloons. Although many Floridians participate in balloon releases as part of a celebration or to honor a loved one, once balloons are released, they can travel thousands of miles before landing. When a balloon bursts and lands in the ocean, sea turtles and other marine wildlife often consume it because of its resemblance to jellyfish. Sea turtles are unable to regurgitate, so once the balloon enters the digestive tract, it can cause an impaction that can lead to death.

The ribbon attached to balloons also wraps around the flippers or necks of sea turtles, inhibiting breathing, eating or swimming. People who monitor sea turtle nesting around Florida report seeing balloons on nesting beaches on an almost-daily basis. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities in Florida spend hours removing balloon material and other plastic debris from stranded sea turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has numerous records of sea turtle deaths associated with balloons.

We are encouraged to see the filing of H.B. 91 – Release of Balloons, which would close a loophole allowing countless balloons to enter our waterways and kill marine life, including sea turtles. Currently, Florida Statute 379.233 prohibits the release of ten or more balloons per day, but makes an exception for “biodegradable” balloons, which is not scientifically sound. By removing these two loopholes, as read in H.B. 91, Florida can drastically reduce plastic debris in the marine environment and save countless marine animals.

All species of sea turtles found in Florida’s coastal and nearshore habitats are listed as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, meaning that they are at risk of extinction. A number of man-made threats, including coastal development, light pollution, boat strikes, commercial fishing interactions, and plastic pollution are contributing to their decline. While reducing plastic pollution in the ocean as a whole will require systemic change, stopping intentional balloon releases and their debris in the marine environment is achievable through laws such as H.B. 91. By supporting the balloon release ban in Florida in 2023, you can directly improve sea turtle nesting and foraging habitat.

The 2023 Legislative Session begins on March 7 and ends on May 5. To support this legislation, STC encourages Floridians and all sea turtle enthusiasts to contact state House Representatives and Senators and ask them to support H.B. 91, the intentional balloon release ban, when it is scheduled in their committees and up for consideration on the House and Senate floor. While emailing is helpful, directly calling legislators at their district or Tallahassee offices and speaking with their staff is especially impactful. If you are unsure who your legislators are, follow the links below.

Find your Florida Senator:

Find your Florida House Representative:


**NOTE: To purchase tracking bracelets from our official charity partners, please click this link or check out the companies listed on our Partners page here:**

SCAM ALERT! Companies operating under a variety of names are advertising on Facebook, selling products online, and illegally using STC’s turtle tracking maps as a perk to buyers. If you have been offered an STC tracked turtle by purchasing something from Bela Wonder, Ocean (not to be confused with ‘The Ocean Project‘), Turtle’s Journey, Wildlife Team, Wildlife Mission, or Ocean Better, they have used Sea Turtle Conservancy’s turtle tracking information without our permission. Don’t be duped or support the scammers!

If you have been scammed, please do NOT email or call STC if you haven’t received your order or if you have questions about your turtle. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do. The greatest inconvenience to STC (aside from having our copyrighted information stolen) is the valuable staff time that is being wasted responding to people’s complaints rather than actually working to protect sea turtles. Instead, we encourage you to report the activity of these companies to the Better Business Bureau, Shopify, and Facebook (contact information below).

How to report scam companies:

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau:

Report online shops to Shopify:

Report pages to Facebook:

If you ever question the legitimacy of a company who claims to partner with STC, we encourage you to reference the PARTNERS page on our website, which we update regularly.



Join STC on a Sea Turtle Expedition to Costa Rica this August!

Join STC on an exclusive, guided journey August 3-10, 2023 to experience the warmth of tropical beaches and rainforests in Costa Rica while we explore the wonders of sea turtles. During this short and immersive trip we will spend a few nights working hands-on with green turtles in Tortuguero – nesting site of the largest green turtle colony in the Atlantic and the literal birthplace of sea turtle conservation. You will be guided by world-renowned sea turtle biologist and STC Scientific Director, Dr. Roldán Valverde, a Costa Rican native, who will give presentations on sea turtle research and conservation, as well as rainforest ecology, biodiversity and local “Tico” culture.

This trip will also include a visit to the Arenal volcano, where you will enjoy natural hot springs and other natural attractions around this active volcano region. Click here to see more details and register for the trip through our travel partner, Holbrook Travel.


  • Assist STC researchers with turtle nest monitoring, tagging, and tracking during evening turtle patrols on the beaches of Tortuguero.
  • Explore Tortuguero National Park by boat and on foot to seek out wildlife like monkeys, sloths, caimans, and more than 350 bird species.
  • Hike in Arenal Volcano National Park to learn about the geology of the area, and then visit Arenal Hanging Bridges for a treetop view of the rainforest canopy and its flora and fauna.
  • Enjoy a relaxing soak in the geothermal hot springs near Arenal Volcano.

Click here for the FULL ITINERARY!

Cost: $3,540 (not including airfare)