loggerhead sea turtles
This morning the government announced a decision, long in the making, to designate 739 miles of Atlantic and Gulf coastline as critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.
Loggerheads face threats from all sides, including from pollution, degradation of foraging areas, and serious injury and death from entanglement in fishing gear. They’re also faced with the loss of their nesting habitat due to coastal development as well as sea level rise.
Loggerheads, which make some of the longest journeys of any sea turtle—across entire ocean basins—nest on beaches from Texas to Virginia, but 90 percent of U.S. loggerhead nesting occurs in Florida. This new protection means that any new beachside hotels, homes or commercial construction built on protected beaches that require federal permits would need to be reviewed to prevent harm to nesting areas.
Oceana marine scientist Amanda Keledjian explained why the protections are crucial:
“Turtles are often caught in fishing gear, struck by moving vessels, or risk ingesting debris such as plastic bags. The National Marine Fisheries Service must follow up on this action and designate off-shore areas as well as waters directly adjacent to nesting beaches if they want these vulnerable populations to recover.”
The new protections came about as a result of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and Turtle Island Restoration Network, after the government failed to respond to previous petitions filed by the groups dating back to 2007. In 2011, loggerhead sea turtles worldwide were protected as nine separate populations under the Endangered Species Act, triggering the requirement to designate critical habitat.
The government will now accept public comments about the proposal and the protections are expected to take effect in 2014. Stay tuned to hear about ways that you can help ensure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not withdraw many of these proposed beaches when these protections are finalized.
Yesterday Oceana and its supporters braved foul weather to protest a truly foul idea. Armed with airhorns and megaphones they gave the Department of the Interior (DOI) a tiny preview of what is in store for the ocean’s inhabitants should the Department allow seismic airgun testing to go forward in the Atlantic Ocean.
The DOI is currently reviewing a proposal to use seismic airguns to search for pockets of oil and gas in a huge expanse of ocean from Delaware to Florida. The effects of these round-the-clock tests, which will run for days on end with dynamite-like blasts firing at 10 second intervals, will be devastating to marine mammals and fish alike.
As Oceana marine scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck said at the event:
“There is only one word that I can use that sums up this proposal: unacceptable. The levels of impacts to protected dolphins and whales, including critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale are simply unacceptable.”
Fishing gear should be killing fewer sea turtles, not more – and today we filed a complaint with the government saying just that.
Oceana’s complaint is in response to the U.S. government’s decision in October 2010 to allow eight East Coast fisheries to harm 14 times more threatened loggerhead sea turtles – raising the limit from 42 to 610.
Oceana is disputing the U.S. government’s decision to allow these fisheries to injure and kill more loggerhead sea turtles without adequately assessing the aggregate impacts of the fisheries on this species. The fisheries harm leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles as well, and those species also would benefit from proper assessments of the fisheries’ impacts.
Oceana’s complaint addresses eight federal fisheries, including those for monkfish and for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass, which are responsible for the highest levels of sea turtle bycatch in the region.
Oceana is calling on the U.S. to implement simple solutions to protect and restore sea turtle populations in the Atlantic, including turtle escape hatches in trawls, adopting adequate monitoring of fisheries that catch sea turtles, capping the allowable catch of sea turtles and where necessary, closing areas for fishing when and where sea turtles are present.
Today’s trivia post is about an animal we talk about a lot: the loggerhead sea turtle.
Loggerheads are named for their broad heads and strong jaws, which they use to force open even large hard shellfish like conchs and giant clams. Loggerheads are found throughout tropical and warm temperate waters, and are the most common sea turtle in the Mediterranean. Loggerheads have a redder hue than most sea turtles, and they are often coated in barnacles and algae.
Because they drink salty sea water, they have developed glands near their eyes that can get rid of this salt, which makes females onshore to nest look like they’re crying. Scientists theorize that adult loggerheads use the Earth’s magnetism to navigate – how cool is that?
Loggerheads, which are considered endangered, are frequently caught accidentally by the fishing industry; other threats include beach erosion and development, pesticides, and oil spills. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.
You can learn more about loggerhead sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.
Last week the U.S. government issued bittersweet news for loggerhead sea turtles.
First, the good news: After almost four years of debate, the government decided to upgrade Pacific loggerhead sea turtles to “endangered” from “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The bad news is that Atlantic loggerhead turtles will still be considered “threatened,” despite the recommendations of the government’s own scientists.
Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Meanwhile, Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998.
In 2009, a team of government scientists published a report that classified both populations of loggerhead turtles as “currently at risk of extinction.” In other words, the government dismissed its own scientists’ conclusions about Northwest Atlantic loggerheads.
The government’s review of loggerhead status was prompted in 2007 by petitions from Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which asked the government to enforce stronger protections for loggerheads and their habitats.
Unfortunately, the government has also postponed measures that would establish critical loggerhead habitats, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding areas in the ocean.
We’re making progress, but as you can see, there’s still a long way to go. We’ll continue working to protect sea turtles – and you can help. Tell your representative to save sea turtles from extinction.
Sea turtles have had a rough year. In 2010, more than 600 sea turtles were found either dead or injured on Gulf of Mexico shores, and 563 have already washed up just halfway into 2011.
This sudden spike in sea turtle mortality is due in part to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf in April, but Oceana has recently discovered that someone else may be to blame: the Gulf shrimp fishery.
Oceana recently found that the fishery is not currently required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which spare most sea turtles from getting caught and drowning in their skimmer trawls used for catching shrimp. This lack of proper regulation, coupled with the fishery’s noncompliance or ignorance of TED requirements for other types of trawls, has led to the enormous number of recent sea turtle deaths.
What you might not know is that under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorizes fisheries to injure or kill a specific number of sea turtles. More than 98 percent of all sea turtle interactions authorized to U.S. fisheries are given to the shrimp fishery.
The new issue of the Oceana Magazine has arrived!
This issue features news from the Gulf, including an in-depth look at the dangers of offshore drilling. The magazine also explores offshore wind as a source of clean, safe, sustainable energy.
Also included: updated news on the status of loggerhead sea turtles, and the latest happenings in our newest office in Belize, plus a profile of "Top Chef" finalist Bryan Voltaggio. Chef Voltaggio even gave us the recipe for one of his favorite sustainable fish dinners so you can make it at home!
Check out the magazine for more Oceana goodies.
We're celebrating a big win yesterday for loggerhead sea turtles.
In response to two petitions submitted in 2007 by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, yesterday the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to change the status of North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
The government also proposed listing loggerhead sea turtles around the globe as nine separate populations, each with its own threatened or endangered status.
The change in listing status means the populations are in danger of extinction and will trigger a legal requirement for proposed critical habitat, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean.
Editor's note: This is the last in a series of six blog posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting. The most recent post was about a full loggerhead nesting.
After witnessing our first full loggerhead nesting, we woke up early, drank some much-needed coffee, then drove over to Jean Beasley’s Sea Turtle Hospital on Topsail Island, NC. After visting last year, I was curious to see how things had changed.
When we arrived, Jean and her team of interns were saying a tearful goodbye to a loggerhead sea turtle, Coastie, who died that morning after getting surgery at NC State in Raleigh.
“We can’t save them all, but we do the best we can,” Beasley told the group of solemn students ranging from middle-school to college age.
Currently housing 22 sea turtles, the hospital is getting too big for its britches. Everywhere you look, including the bathroom, are pools with sea turtles in them. A new, much bigger facility is in the works, but Beasley said she’s far from having the funding needed to complete the project.
As promised, I have more to report on our expedition to Bald Head Island, NC. After 3 nights on the island, Kerri Lynn and I had seen a female loggerhead's false crawl and the end of a female nesting.
With only one night remaining, we were really hoping to see the whole nesting process. We got our chance on the fourth night at 2 a.m. When we got to the beach it was starting to rain, and there was no moon in sight.
The interns told us that they had seen five sets of tracks -- all false crawls -- two of which they think were this female, since the tracks appeared similar. The turtle was at work digging her egg chamber, but we stayed at a distance to make sure we didn’t scare her off.
We stayed quiet and still, waiting for her to go into the nesting “trance” to get closer. We all turned our flashlights off, and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could see glints of bioluminescent algae on her shell.
As soon as she started dropping eggs into the chamber, the interns gave us the go-ahead to get closer. They got busy measuring her shell and checking her for tagging IDs while we watched the eggs drop into the sandy pit she’d neatly dug. There was a noticeable chunk taken out of the back of her shell. The interns guessed that a predator had taken a bite when she was a juvenile.