It is against the law to “take, disturb, or molest” a turtle in the wild. This includes disturbance such as touching, chasing, catching, riding, handling or holding turtles or preventing natural behaviors. Disruption of natural behaviors on beaches and at sea can prevent mating, laying eggs, feeding, and resting – threatening turtle populations and reducing the likelihood of potential future encounters.

These impacts can be reduced by following the guidelines in the DoE’s “Guide to Sea Turtle Encounters” brochure which provides information on how to observe turtles without disturbing them: Guide For Sea Turtle Encounters.

   Guide For Sea Turtle Encounters

Turtle encounters on the beach:

  • If you see a nesting turtle, maintain a distance of at least 30 ft. to avoid disturbance.
  • If you see hatchling (baby) turtles, turn off lights that shine toward the beach (if possible) and do not handle the hatchlings as they crawl into the sea. If you require assistance, call the DoE’s turtle hotline at 938-NEST (938-6378).
  • Do not use flashlights or take flash photos: these may cause a nesting turtle to leave the beach without laying her eggs and may injure and misorient hatchling turtles.

Turtle encounters at sea:

  • If you see mating turtles, maintain a distance of at least 50 ft. – if they are disturbed they may abandon their mating attempt.
  • Do not disturb feeding or resting turtles.
  • Approach all turtles slowly and move away if they show signs of disturbance or interruption of natural activities.
  • Never surround or chase turtles – turtles breathe air and if they are chased they may drown before they can reach the surface to breathe.
  • Do not attempt to feed turtles.
  • If a turtle is accidentally hooked while line fishing call the Department of Environment Turtle Hotline at 938-NEST (938-6378) for assistance.
  • To report someone taking or disturbing a turtle, please call the Department of Environment Chief Conservation Officer at 916-4271 or call 911.

    Penalties: fine of up to $500,000, imprisonment up to 4 years.