Headstarting Turtles—Is it a Valid Strategy for Wildlife Rehabilitators?


  • Harriet Forrester Turtle Rescue of New Jersey




Headstarting turtles, conservation, predation, turtle, sea turtle


Headstarting is the hatching and rearing of turtles in captivity until they reach a size that will discourage predation. Headstarted turtles may be kept in captivity from several months to a few years before they are released. There are two purposes: to boost populations, and/or to establish new nesting sites (most often used with sea turtles). Although some have argued that headstarting turtles increases their chances for survival, others believe that headstarting is useless if it does not address other causes of species decline. In some cases, it may actually be harmful to turtles.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Harriet Forrester, Turtle Rescue of New Jersey

Harriet Forrester is a New Jersey state licensed wildlife rehabilitator and the founder of Turtle Rescue of New Jersey.


Ammermuller, J., A. Itzhaki, R. Weiler, and I. Perlman. 1998. UV sensitive input to horizontal cells in the turtle retina. European Journal of Neuroscience. 10(4):1544.

Arnold, K., and C. Neumeyer. 1987. Wavelength discrimination in the turtle Pseudemys scripta elegans. Vision Research. 27(9):1501–11.

Barker, D., M. Fitzpatrick, and E. Dierenfeld. 1998. Nutrient composition of selected whole invertebrates. Zoo Biology. 17(2):123–34.

Bell, C. D. L., J. Parsons, T. J. Austin, A. C. Broderick, B. Ebanks–Petrie, and B. J. Godleyy. 2005. Some of them came home: the Cayman Turtle Farm headstarting project for the green turtle Chelonia mydas. Oryx. 39(2):137–148.

Bryant, P. J. 2002. Chapter 23: Captive Breeding and Reintroduction in Biodiversity and Conservation: A Hypertext Book, School of Biological Sciences, University of California: Irvine, CA.< http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/ Titlpage.htm >.

Burghardt, G. M. 1977. Learning processes in reptiles. Pp. 555–707 in Biology of the Reptilia, vol. 7(C. Gans, and T. S. Parsons, eds.). Academic Press: New York, NY.

Burghardt, G. M., and E. H. Hess. 1966. Food imprinting in the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Science. 151:108–109.

Donoghue, S. 1996. Nutrition. Pp. 148–174 in Reptile Medicine and Surgery (D. Mader, ed.). W. B. Saunders Company: Philadelphia, PA.

Finke, M. 2002. Complete nutrient composition of commercially raised invertebrates used as food for insectivores. Zoo Biology. 21(3):147–62.

Frazer, N. B. 1992. Sea turtle conservation and halfway technology. Conservation Biology. 6(2):179–184.

Garber, S. D., and J. Burger. 1995. A 20–Year Study Documenting the Relationship Between Turtle Decline and Human Recreation. Ecological Applications. 5(4):1151–1162.

Gibbons, J. W., D. E. Scott, T. J. Ryan, K. A. Buhlmann, T. D. Tuberville, B. S. Metts, J. L. Greene, T. Mills, Y. Leiden, S. Poppy, and C. T. Winne. 2000. The Global Decline of Reptiles, Déjà vu Amphibians. Bio Science. 50(8):653–666.

Gibbons, J. W., J. E. Lovich, A. D. Tucker, N. N. Fitzsimmons, and J. L. Greene. 2001. Demographic and Ecological Factors Affecting Conservation and Management of the

Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) in South Carolina. Chelonian Conservation Biolology. 4(1):66–74.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. 2005. Policy on Managing Activities that include the Direct Take of a Protected Species from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia.

Heppell, S. S., L. B. Crowder, and D. T. Crouse. 1996. Models to Evaluate Headstarting as a Management Tool for Long–Lived Turtles. Ecological Applications. 6(2):556–565.

Hewavisenthi, S., and S. W. Kotagama. 1990. The effect of retaining turtle hatchlings in tanks before their release. Proceedings Sri Lanka Assoc. Science. 56(1):92.

Huff, J. A. 1989. Florida (USA) terminates “headstart” program. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 46:1–2.

Jacobson, E. R. 1996. Marine Turtle Farming and Health Issues. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 72:13.

Kinsey, S. G., B. J. Prendergast, and R. J. Nelson. 2003. Photoperiod and stress affect wound healing in Siberian hamsters. Physiology & Behavior. 78(2003): 205–211.

Klemens, M. W. 1993. A New Paradigm for Conservation. Pp. xv–xvii in Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles— An International Conference, Proceedings (J. Van Abbema, ed.). New York Turtle and Tortoise Society: New York, NY.

Mahapatra, M. S., S. K. Mahata, and B. R. Maiti. 1988. Circadian rhythms and influence of light on serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine contents in the pineal–paraphyseal complex of soft–shelled turtles (Lissemys punctata punctata). General and Comparative Endocrinology. 71(1):183–8.

McArthur, S., R. Wilkinson, and J. Meyer. 2004. Pp. 83 in Medicine and Surgery of Tortoises and Turtles. Blackwell Publishing: Ames, IA.

McDougal, J. 2000. Conservation of Tortoises and Terrestrial Turtles. Pp. 180–206 in Turtle Conservation Biology, (M. Klemens, ed.). Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC.

Moll, E. O. and D. Moll, 2000. Conservation of River Turtles. Pp. 126–155 in Turtle Conservation Biology, (M. Klemens, ed.). Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC.

National Research Council. 1990. Decline of the Sea Turtles: Causes and Prevention. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

Pritchard, P. C. H. 1980. The conservation of sea turtles: practices and problems. American Zoologist. 20(3):609–617.

Sea Turtle Restoration Project. 1995. Report on Guatemala’s Hatchery Programs < http://www.seaturtles.org/progMaterial.cfm?campaignMaterialID=30 >.

Seigel, R. A., and C. K. Dodd, Jr. 2000. Manipulating Turtle Populations: Half–way Technologies or Viable Options? Pp. 218–238 in Turtle Conservation Biology, (M. Klemens, ed.). Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC.

Settle, S. 1995. Status of Nesting Populations of Sea Turtles in Thailand and Their Conservation. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 68:8–13.

Ventura, D. F., Y. Zana, J. M. deSouza, and R. D. DeVoe. 2001. Ultraviolet colour opponency in the turtle retina. Journal of Experimental Biology. 204:2527–2534.

Vivien–Roels, B., P. Pevet, and B. Claustrat. 1988. Pineal and circulating melatonin rhythms in the box turtle, Terrapene carolina triunguis: effect of photoperiod, light pulse, and environmental temperature. General and Comparative Endocrinology. 69(2):163–73.

Woody, J. B. 1990. Is ‘Headstarting’ a Reasonable Conservation Measure? On the Surface, Yes; in Reality, No. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 50:8–11.

Woody, J. B. 2001. It’s Time to Stop Headstarting Kemp’s Ridley. Marine Turtle Newsletter. 55:7–8.




How to Cite

Forrester, H. (2006). Headstarting Turtles—Is it a Valid Strategy for Wildlife Rehabilitators?. Wildlife Rehabilitation Bulletin, 24(1), 20–25. https://doi.org/10.53607/wrb.v24.185



Original Articles