The U.S. government today announced it will conduct a detailed review of the loggerhead sea turtle population in the Atlantic Ocean to decide whether they should be declared "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. government also will determine whether further habitat protections are warranted in the Atlantic. This review is in response to a formal petition filed by Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity in November 2007.
"We are encouraged to see that the government is considering proactive steps towards protecting loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. "This population of sea turtles could face extinction from commercial fishing and climate change."
Specifically, the petition urged the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate western North Atlantic loggerheads as a distinct population segment and change their status from "threatened" to "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which are responsible for protecting sea turtles in the water and on land respectively, also were urged to strengthen protections for key loggerhead nesting beaches and marine habitats by designating loggerhead critical habitat areas.
"It is time for our government to step in and make a real change in the water for sea turtles," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "If we don't act soon, sea turtles may go the way of the dinosaurs."
Urgent Need for Action
Loggerhead sea turtle nesting along the U.S. Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico is declining. One of the most disturbing trends is that the number of loggerheads nesting in Florida has declined 50% during the past decade.
Loggerheads are harmed or killed by commercial fishing gear, including longlines, gillnets, trawls and scallop dredges. Additional threats to their survival are beachfront development, pollution, motor vehicles crushing nests, collisions with boats, and the hunting of turtles and their eggs.
Many marine biologists fear climate change will stress loggerhead sea turtle populations even further. Climate change can cause severe storms, erosion and sea level rise, all of which can affect sea turtle nesting on beaches. Increasing temperatures may alter the timing or location of nesting. A warmer climate also may increase the number of female turtles, because the sex of the hatchlings is temperature dependent. Climate change may also affect sea turtles by altering ocean currents and migration routes. Finally, ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels breaks down the shells of preferred turtle prey, such as mollusks and crustaceans, and could alter turtles' food supply.
For more information about our efforts to protect sea turtles, please visit www.oceana.org/seaturtles and www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/oceans/index.html.