Loggerheads in Trouble

Jane Stevens in Santa Cruz, CA. -- Some bad news came this weekend: the numbers of loggerhead turtles are dropping. They were increasing during the 1990s, but the five-year review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service showed a turn-around. The review is required under the Endangered Species Act, so that we can figure out how we're doing on bringing back endangered and threatened species. The Associated Press story -- Federal Report Shows Sea Turtle Declines -- says: "The report stops short of recommending upgrading the federally threatened species to 'endangered' status. But scientists and environmentalists say it should serve as a wake-up call about the future of loggerheads..."

You can review the report on the National Marine Fisheries Service site. They did a great job of explaining all about loggerheads, in a very easty-to-read review. These turtles were around during the time of the dinosaurs. They grow to 250 pounds (although there are old reports of loggerheads reaching 600+ pounds). The site provides a couple of interesting facts:

-- The only two beaches in the world that still have more than 10,000 females nesting each year are in South Florida and Masirah Island in Oman.

-- Loggerhead turtles aren't sexually mature until they're 35 years old!

Here's a photo of a loggerhead hatchling. It was taken by Mary Wozny from the Broward County Florida Sea Turtle Conservation Program, and was on the NMFS site.

The report notes:

"The highly migratory behavior of loggerheads makes them shared resources among many nations. Therefore, conservation efforts for loggerhead populations in one country may be jeopardized by activities in another. Protecting loggerhead sea turtles on U.S. nesting beaches and in U.S. waters alone is not sufficient to ensure the continued existence of the species.

Loggerheads face threats on both nesting beaches and in the marine environment. The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges. Directed harvest for loggerheads still occurs in many places (e.g., the Bahamas, Cuba, and Mexico) and is a serious and continuing threat to loggerhead recovery. "

TOPP tagged a loggerhead more than a year ago -- in August 2006. It's now northeast of the Hawaiian Islands. It was likely born in eastern Australia or Japan, swam to Baja California, and is now on its way back across the Pacific Ocean, where millions of sea turtles once roamed. You can follow its progress by going to the TOPP Data section's live data page. Scroll down to find "loggerhead turtle" in the left nav bar.