Gainesville, FL — The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), the world’s oldest sea turtle research and protection group, does not fully support the September 16, 2011 decision of the U.S. government to separate the world’s loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) into nine distinct population segments and re-designate five of these populations from Threatened to Endangered.
For these populations, this good change in status recognizes the plight of loggerheads in most areas of the world. The bad part of this decision, however, is that the designation of the population of American loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, which nests on beaches from North Carolina to Texas, has not been changed to Endangered as proposed by government scientists in 2009. In the United States and elsewhere, loggerheads face numerous threats onshore where they nest and at sea, but accidental capture, injury and death in commercial fisheries is the greatest peril to their survival today.
Florida accounts for 90% of loggerhead nesting in the United States. From 1998 to 2009, the U.S. nesting population was in sharp decline. Although nesting was better in 2010 and 2011 than in earlier years, the population is clearly in a long-term downward trajectory. STC has repeatedly urged the government to change the status of all loggerhead population segments from Threatened to Endangered.
Through its action last week, the U.S. government listed distinct loggerhead populations in the Mediterranean, Northeast Atlantic, Northern Indian Ocean, South Pacific, and North Pacific as Endangered rather than Threatened, reflecting grave threats to the species around the world. Because it is still the world’s second largest assemblage of loggerheads, however, saving Northwest Atlantic loggerheads is critical to the global survival of this species.
“The ugly truth appears to be that this listing is a political decision, not a scientific one,” said David Godfrey, STC’s Executive Director. “Fishermen’s groups lobbied the Department of Commerce hard not to list loggerheads as Endangered, and they succeeded.”
“In U.S. waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) allows our fisheries to kill thousands of large and small loggerheads rather than adequately regulate fishing,” continued Godfrey. “If government claims that ‘substantial conservation efforts are underway’ are true, why has the conservation community had to bring multiple lawsuits in recent years to protect this species?”
Godfrey warned that much of what has been accomplished over the last three decades for this species will be lost if NMFS does not implement serious fisheries policy changes soon. “Whatever the label, Threatened or Endangered, what is most important is how the Fisheries Service and Department of Commerce will regulate fisheries going forward.”
From its base in Florida, STC has worked for more than 30 years to protect loggerheads and the habitats on which they depend. The organization has championed the protection of critical nesting sites and promoted sensible coastal development policies to ensure sea turtles and people can coexist on Florida’s beaches. The State of Florida, through its Marine Turtle Protection Act, and many coastal governments have enacted strong laws and regulations to protect sea turtles. In recent years, STC expanded its efforts to include comprehensive programs focused on reducing interactions with fisheries. Clearly, much more needs to be done to protect loggerhead sea turtles in Florida, the United States, and throughout the world.
STC advocates for year-round area restrictions for the reef fish bottom longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, better enforcement of existing Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) regulations for the U.S. shrimp fleet, and long-awaited TED requirements in all U.S. trawl net fisheries. Local and state governments must adopt comprehensive coastal management policies.
“STC will use all means at its disposal to reverse the decline of the loggerhead, which more than any other species is America’s flagship sea turtle species,” Godfrey pledged. “Our 50-year-long green turtle recovery program in Costa Rica has brought about a 500% increase in nesting of this species. We know how to achieve the same results for loggerheads, if the U.S. and other governments have the will.”