U.S. Proposes to List Loggerhead Sea Turtles as Endangered

Date: March 10, 2010
Contact: David Godfrey
(352) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FL—Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the world’s oldest sea turtle research and protection group, applauded the proposal made public today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service (Services) to designate Northwest Atlantic loggerhead turtles as Endangered. This proposed change in status from Threatened to Endangered recognizes the plight of rapidly declining loggerhead sea turtles, which nest on beaches in the United States from North Carolina to Texas and until 1998 were an Endangered Species Act success story.

Florida accounts for over 90% of loggerhead nesting in the United States. Protection provided by the Endangered Species Act and implementation of regulations requiring Turtle Excluder Devices in shrimp nets to prevent the drowning of entrapped turtles contributed to encouraging nesting increases from 1986 to 1998. Since that time, however, nesting throughout Florida has declined by nearly 50%. Nesting populations also are declining in the other states for which long-term information is available.

Loggerheads face numerous threats onshore where they nest and at sea, but accidental capture, injury and death in commercial fisheries is perhaps the greatest peril to their survival today. CCC and other conservation groups repeatedly have sounded the alarm about declining numbers of loggerheads. In January, concern about the species was elevated when loggerheads were ominously absent among sea turtles rescued from record cold waters in Florida. Over 4,000 juvenile sea turtles were affected by prolonged freezing temperatures. Unlike previous cold-stun events, when a more even mix of green turtles and loggerheads were impacted, almost all of the turtles found this year were green turtles. The absence of loggerheads among the massive number of turtles rescued raises concerns that juvenile loggerheads, as well as nesting adults, are in decline.

Through the action made public Wednesday, the Services also propose to list distinct loggerhead populations in the Eastern Atlantic, Southwest Indian Ocean, South Pacific and North Pacific as Endangered rather than Threatened, reflecting similar grave threats to the species around the world. Because it is the world’s second largest remaining assemblage of loggerheads, however, saving Northwest Atlantic loggerheads is critical to the global survival of this species.

“This proposal is long overdue,” said David Godfrey, CCC’s Executive Director.

Loggerheads spend many years in the open ocean before settling into near-shore habitats; the varied loggerhead diet of soft invertebrates and hard-shelled animals puts the species more at risk from fisheries than any other species of sea turtle.

“Overwhelming evidence points to accidental capture in fishing lines, hooks, nets and dredges as the main culprit in these declines,” continued Godfrey. “International fleets capture, injure and kill tens of thousands of loggerheads on the high seas every year. In U.S. waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has allowed our fisheries to kill thousands of large and small loggerheads rather than adequately regulate fishing.”

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.

From its base in Florida, CCC has worked for decades 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. And a strong network of volunteer turtle groups around Florida and in most states where turtles nest have been working for years to monitor and protect this species. Despite these combined efforts, loggerheads are slipping closer toward extinction. Clearly, much more needs to be done to protect loggerhead sea turtles in Florida, the United States, and throughout the world, said Godfrey

“Despite the proposed new endangered status for this species, loggerheads can still be saved if U.S. efforts are appropriately focused.” Godfrey said. “For starters, the National Marine Fisheries Service must immediately take action to reduce loggerhead capture in fisheries.”

CCC advocates year-round area restrictions for the reef fish bottom longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and long-awaited requirements for Turtle Excluder Devices in U.S. trawl net fisheries. In addition, local and state governments must adopt comprehensive changes in coastal management policies to ensure adequate protection of nesting beaches, Godfrey added.

“CCC 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.”

Background on CCC Loggerhead conservation efforts:

  • In the late 1980’s CCC was instrumental in establishing the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Mid-Atlantic coast, the nation’s only federal refuge specifically designated to protect sea turtle nesting beaches. Subsequently, we worked with private donors, federal, state, and local governments to identify suitable properties for purchase. We helped form and remain active in the Archie Carr Working Group to address research, education and refuge management.

  • In 1995, CCC spearheaded a campaign to establish the Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate in Florida. The turtle tag is now the top selling conservation tag in the state and is the principal funding source for Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Program. The license plate also supports the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program, which is administered by CCC and awards about $300,000 annually to support research, conservation and education programs in the state.

  • CCC serves on the Technical Advisory Committee of Florida’s developing Habitat Conservation Plan to establish guidelines minimizing impacts to turtles from coastal development policies.

  • In partnership with Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, CCC co-manages education programs conducted at the Barrier Island Center—a state-of-the-art environmental education center located within the Archie Carr Refuge.

  • In 2009 helped to initiate two lawsuits to halt the killing of thousands of loggerheads caught by commercial bottom long-line fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. We are actively engaged in reducing sea turtle drowning in trawl nets and capture by other fisheries.

  • CCC also leads a long-term campaign to reform coastal management policies that fail to protect sea turtles from unwise coastal development and sea wall construction on nesting beaches.

  • CCC has developed fun new ways to educate the public about sea turtles and inspire support for their protection, such as the “Tour de Turtles”—an online education event based on the satellite-tracked migrations of loggerhead turtles released in Florida (www.tourdeturtles.org).

  • CCC serves as a clearinghouse for educational material regarding sea turtle biology and conservation, which is provided for free to coastal governments, conservation organizations, tourists, school teachers and the public.