Loggerhead turtles are slow growing, long lived animals that do not reach sexual maturity until they are 35 years old. They are found throughout temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and are the most abundant species of marine turtle found in United States coastal waters. Loggerhead turtles spend the majority of their time in the ocean with females only coming ashore to nest. After mating at sea, females come to shore a few times during the nesting season, dig a burrow in the sand, and lay 100-120 eggs each time. After several weeks, loggerhead hatchlings emerge from the nest and enter the water together.
Juvenile loggerhead turtles may spend as long as 7-12 years foraging in the open ocean environment. During this part of their lives, loggerhead turtles stay close to floating seaweeds and other objects and likely feed on crustaceans and other invertebrates that are also attracted to seaweed. Riding currents that circle entire ocean basins, it is possible that juvenile loggerhead turtles cross the ocean several times during this period. Scientists are only recently beginning to learn where these turtles go and what they do during these “lost years.” Throughout its lifetime, a loggerhead turtle may cross the ocean several times, traveling to and from preferred feeding or nesting sites. Like other marine turtles, loggerhead turtles return to the same beach where they hatched to nest, even if it is thousands of miles from their preferred feeding areas. The two largest remaining nesting areas (in terms of numbers of nesting females) for Loggerhead Turtles are the southeast coast of the United States and the coast of Oman.
Like all sea turtle species, loggerhead turtles face many threats that impact their population numbers. Coastal development has reduced the area where they can successfully nest, dogs and other animals often destroy their nests, and historically, people harvested their eggs for food. Fortunately, some of their primary nesting sites are in countries with strict legal protections, but even in those places, threats to their nesting beaches still persist. Legal measures often extend to turtle nests but rarely extend to the beaches themselves, so alteration of natural habitat continues to threaten this and other marine turtles. Hunting of adult loggerhead turtles for food also still occurs in some places. Additionally, the preferred habitats for adult loggerhead turtles overlaps with rich fishing grounds, and thousands of individuals are accidentally captured in fishing operations targeting other species. All of these threats have combined to drive loggerhead turtle populations to dangerously low levels. Naturally, only one or two of thousands of eggs will make it to adulthood, and these added anthropogenic pressures on nesting beaches and juvenile and young adult turtles make their chance of survival even worse. In the United States, wide scale studies of loggerhead turtle nesting beaches indicate consistent declines in numbers of females that return each year, even with the strong protection measures in place there. These declines may reflect alterations to nesting beaches, threats to loggerhead turtles outside of U.S. waters, or a delayed response to decades of accidental capture by U.S. fishers – likely a combination of all three.
1. Loggerhead turtles are named for their broad, muscular heads.
2. Loggerhead turtles are 3 feet (0.9 m) long and weigh 250 pounds (113 kg).1
3. Loggerhead turtles take up to 39 years to reach sexual maturity.2
4. Loggerhead turtles have blunt jaws that allow them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as mollusks, whelks and conch.
5. Female loggerhead turtles return to the same nesting grounds where they were born to lay their eggs.3
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.