By Nirvi Shah
Loggerhead sea turtles nested in smaller numbers this year than they did 20 years ago, says one international research and advocacy group pushing to change loggerheads’ status from threatened to endangered.
“The data is disappointing but not surprising,” said Kerri Lynn Miller, a marine scientist at Oceana.
“The downward trend will only continue unless permanent protections are established.”
The group said 90 percent of loggerhead nesting in the United States happens in Florida, which is one of the turtles’ two largest nesting hot spots in the world. But Florida’s loggerhead nesting population has dropped by more than 40 percent over the last decade and 2009 was the state’s fourth-lowest nesting season on record. The other turtles that nest in Palm Beach County or that are found offshore, including leatherbacks, green turtles, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley, are all listed as endangered species.
Loggerheads have been listed as threatened since 1978. There is not a single cause for the decrease in their population, Miller said. Rather, a combination of their capture in fishing gear, destruction of their habitat, pollution and climate change is leading to their decline, as is disorientation from beachfront lighting. Hatchlings led away from the ocean by beachfront lights sap them of precious energy they need once they get to the water.
Meanwhile, ocean foraging and nesting beach conditions for Kemp’s ridleys in Texas and leatherbacks in Florida appear to be improving: 2009 was the largest nesting year on record for both species.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to make a decision about loggerheads’ status in February, Miller said. The Marine Fisheries’ own review of the status of loggerheads worldwide found that they are at risk of extinction.
Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network have also petitioned the federal government to designate the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead as a distinct population segment. The petition calls for increased protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beaches and marine habitats.
“The battle to uplist the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead has been going on for more than two years and during that time the population has only experienced further declines,” she said. “Strong protections must be established as soon as possible if these sea turtle populations are to have any chance of recovery.”