World Turtle Day is an internationally-recognized holiday founded in 1990 by the American Tortoise Rescue organization; it takes place annually on May 23rd.

Despite its name, both turtles and tortoises are recognized and celebrated on this day, which hopes to bring awareness both to the treatment of these animals and the continuing struggle they face with a rapidly changing environment.

There are many events and activities that the American Tortoise Rescue organization puts on each May to celebrate and raise money for these animals, but there is also lots you can do at home—regardless of whether or not you own a turtle.

So whether you’re an owner of a turtle or simply an interested person in the lives of these magnificent creatures, here are a few ideas on how to celebrate World Turtle Day.  

Spotlight: When and How to Celebrate World Turtle Day

world turtle day

Understanding Turtles

For most, the general understanding of turtles and tortoises can be difficult to explain. Many don’t often know about the differences between these two reptiles, or how environmental factors like climate change constantly threaten the continued existence of these creatures.

As for the difference between the two reptiles, we may be able to help somewhat.

Both turtles and tortoises look like what you may have seen in a film or a documentary. Both walk slowly on four legs and carry their homes with them as shells, which are fused to their spines.

The major and singular difference between the turtle and the tortoise has to do with where they live, rather than biological differences. Tortoises reside primarily on land, while turtles are prone to live within water for most of their lives.

Turtles and tortoises also hold the reputation for living long lives, which remains true. Many species of tortoises specifically have lifespans that match that of a human, and in some cases, surpasses them.

The true lifespan of tortoises is relatively unknown and continues to be studied. However, in fringe cases, tortoises have been known to live for well over one hundred years or even longer than that.

Otherwise, turtles and tortoises both function much like their reptile brethren, and lay eggs and remain cold-blooded animals. They can be found in parks and zoos across the world, owned as pets, and discovered naturally in the wild.

Climate Change

One of the biggest threats to turtles and tortoises remains climate change—which continues to manipulate sea levels, global temperature, and other elements of our global environment that can have disastrous effects on a species such as this one.

While it may be initially surprising, these changes (and the raising temperature of oceans specifically) are forcing many of these creatures to change their sex.

Unlike humans, that reproduce and are assigned a sex at birth, the sex of a turtle and a tortoise are determined by biological factors in the environment in which they are both. We know through recent research that the temperature of the water is the determining factor. In colder water, males are born. In warmer waters, females are born.

Throughout the past few hundred years, global temperatures have risen at a rate far more drastically than evolution will be able to adapt. These rising temperatures force more and more turtles and tortoises to give birth to primarily female populations.

As temperatures continue to use and schools of turtles become made up of a single gender, reproduction stops and the population begins to die off. While we’re perfectly capable of keeping waters cool in our homes, zoos, and sanctuaries, turtles in their natural habitat that have existed for thousands of years are either being forced north or faced with extinction.

One of the many aspirations of World Turtle Day is to bring awareness to climate change, and its effect on the world’s population of turtles and tortoises. Climate change continues to be a hotly contested issue that’s often politically and culturally divisive.

Hopefully, through research and scientific study, we can better understand what we can do to help these creatures and the millions of others that are affected by global changes. If not, the future is exceedingly grim for these natural turtles, and we can expect the native population to die out within the next two generations completely.

sea turtle

What You Can Do

There are many ways you can help out with this unique holiday, aside from the usual social media awareness. Of course, a little awareness goes a long way, so don’t be too shy in trying to recruit friends and family toward this cause.

If you want to help in a more tactile way, the American Tortoise Rescue organization has found a way to make donations fun and more enjoyable for those who may not be as sympathetic to the cause.

Their website provides details and contact information that will help you contact bars in your area for a special happy hour on World Turtle Day.

Fliers are provided, and the information is available that can help you convince local pubs and bars to donate 5% of their profit to the American Tortoise Rescue organization. The organization promises to work with bars to help promote the event online and with advertisements.

The hope is to draw enough people to the bar to minimize any potential losses, and generate considerable revenue for the organization to continue working to protect turtles and tortoises. If your local bar agrees, you can also help get the word out by sharing the event on social media—or, by buying a few rounds for your friends when the time comes.

The American Tortoise Rescue also offers merchandise and products that can aid you in the home. This merchandise further advertises the organization and allows you to gain some benefit back for all of your help.

If activism is not your thing, even a quiet discussion with close friends or young children can help remind those close to you that others on this planet may need our help. This day devoted to turtles is also a fantastic opportunity to educate the young on the creatures around us and their continued importance in our lives.


Owning A Turtle

Of course, there is no better way to protect these animals by bringing one into your home. While it may be great to do so in a spur of the moment decision on Turtle Day, be sure that you have the time and knowledge necessary to give a long and happy life to your new pet.

In general, owning a turtle is going to require a little bit of space. Even if you purchase the smallest of turtles, tanks well above 50 gallons will be appropriate. If you’re not sure what size to purchase, talk carefully to your pet store provider before picking up the cheapest and smallest option.

Likewise, your new friend won’t be needing a fancy home more than he’ll be needing both enough water to swim in and enough land to bask on. Look out for fake (or real) rocks and little else, while still providing places underwater that your new friend can enjoy.

Water filtration systems are also a must and remember that touching your turtle will mean washing your hands thoroughly afterward to avoid contamination.

Finally, there is the issue of the lamp. All turtles and tortoises require heat and UV rays from a lamp to survive and thrive. This is another conversation that’s best left to the experts—as each turtle is different and there are many options for lamps to choose from when setting up your pet’s new home.

Provided you’ve taken every precaution; turtles make excellent companions that are low maintenance and can live as long as you can. However, they’re not animals that can be played with or ones that small children may enjoy. Be sure to take precaution when introducing new members of the family.

Organizing Events For World Turtle Day

Even if you don’t purchase a turtle or organize an event with your local pub or bar, there’s still lots that you can do that will aid in the protection and the survival of turtles and tortoises across America and the world.

Something as simple as a social media post will help others understand the importance of protecting these creatures. Hard conversations about climate change and our hand in the matter may also help to serve a better public understanding of how and why turtles and tortoises need our help.

Every small bit counts, so don’t be afraid to recognize and celebrate turtles if you are a turtle owner or just a person concerned about the creatures that share our planet. Perhaps with a little bit of effort and understanding, we can turn back the tides somewhat and help naturally occurring turtles stay on the earth just a bit longer.