Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle in Chesapeake Bay.
There are only 7 sea turtle species worldwide. All are either threatened or endangered. Five of these species occur in Virginia's waters.
Each year, between 5,000 and 10,000 sea turtles enter Chesapeake Bay in late spring when waters temperatures rise. The majority of these turtles are either juvenile loggerheads (Caretta caretta) or Kemp's ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii) using the Bay seasonally as a feeding ground. Green (Chelonia mydas) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles are less common. The hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) is the least common sea turtle in the Bay. Only two hawksbill strandings have been reported in Virginia; both of these are considered "strays" from the tropical waters they normally inhabit.
Two sea turtle species do not occur in Chesapeake Bay—the Australian flatback (Natator depressus) and the Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is not considered a sea turtle as it is restricted to the brackish waters of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
All sea turtle species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Kemp's ridley is the most endangered sea turtle and one of the most endangered animals in the world.
Kemp’s ridleys are the second most common sea turtle in Chesapeake Bay. They are the smallest and rarest of all sea turtles and are listed as “endangered” throughout their range.
Leatherbacks are the world's largest sea turtles and the third most abundant turtle in Virginia's waters.
Green sea turtles, which are endangered in U.S. waters, are seen in Chesapeake Bay during the late summer and early fall.
Hawksbill sea turtles are extremely rare in Chesapeake Bay. Only two have been reported since 1979, and these are considered “strays.”
Diamondback terrapins inhabit Chesapeake Bay's brackish waters. They are not sea turtles, but like sea turtles their populations are in trouble.