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Species at Risk: Loggerhead sea turtle

loggerhead sea turtle

Loggerhead sea turtles are currently listed as being threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers are rapidly declining. Loggerhead sea turtles, like other sea turtle species, face many natural and human-induced threats. Scientists have determined that the capture in fishing gear and the loss of nesting habitat are major causes of the loggerhead's decline.

In September 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a five-year status review of loggerhead sea turtle populations in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, as required by the Endangered Species Act. The report concluded that loggerhead nesting in the U.S. is declining. It also confirmed for the first time that "the most significant man-made factor affecting conservation and recovery of the loggerhead is incidental capture in commercial and artisanal fisheries."

Tens of thousands of loggerhead sea turtles are injured or killed annually in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico by destructive fishing gear, including trawls, gillnets and longlines. Loggerheads are also captured and killed by commercial fisheries using vertical lines, seines, dredges and various types of pots and traps.

In the Atlantic Ocean, the majority of nesting occurs along the southeastern United States, but loggerheads also nest in the eastern Atlantic and western South Atlantic. All of the nesting populations in the Atlantic, with trend data available, are experiencing significant declines. The largest decline was experienced by the South Florida nesting population, which declined 40 percent in the past decade.

Because loggerhead sea turtles have been determined to be threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service is required to take actions necessary to protect the species in the water and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect their nesting areas on land. Nonetheless, the National Marine Fisheries Service allows thousands of sea turtles to be killed by U.S. commercial fishing operations annually.

It is long past time for the federal government to step up and take control of sea turtle takes (intentional or accidental human interactions), especially bycatch (the unintentional capture of turtles by fishing gear) and deaths in commercial fisheries. Failure of the fishery managers to act will immeasurably increase the risk of extinction of one of the ocean's most ancient species.