Sea turtle movements often occur in open-sea unsheltered areas, and are therefore likely to be influenced by major oceanographic processes. Only recently has work started to examine the possible relationships of these movements with dynamic oceanic features, and consequently a clear picture of such interaction is only available in a few cases.
Newborn sea turtles are thought to rely on oceanic currents to reach their pelagic nursery habitats. The actual extent and timing of these developmental migrations are known for only a few populations, but these movements probably last several years and range over thousands of km. Large juveniles that have been tracked during their pelagic stage were found to make long-distance movements, sometimes swimming against the prevailing currents. Older juveniles of most species leave the pelagic habitat to recruit to neritic developmental habitats. This is a very poorly documented phase of the sea turtle life-cycle, and the few available indications show that turtles may have to swim actively for enormous distances to counterbalance their previous drift with the current.
The course and extent of adult postnesting migrations vary greatly among different turtle species, but two main patterns are evident. Some species, like green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, shuttle between the nesting beach and a specific feeding area used for the entire inter-reproductive period. In these cases, individuals swim, rather than drift, to complete their journeys, with possible advection due to currents sometimes helping them to quickly reach their target, but sometimes providing navigational challenges.
Other species such as the olive ridley and the leatherback turtle, leave the coastal nesting areas to reach the pelagic environment where they forage, and perform wandering movements. Major oceanographic processes (such as main currents and eddies) have been recently shown to have a remarkable influence on leatherback movements, making it questionable whether these journeys are to be considered migrations or, rather, prolonged stays in vast feeding areas.