Conservation groups Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government today to stop the precipitous decline of the western North Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle. The petition urges the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for protecting loggerheads in ocean waters, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for protecting turtles on land, to change the designation of western North Atlantic loggerheads from "threatened" to "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The petition also urges the government to strengthen protections in the loggerheads' key nesting beach and marine habitats.
On the Brink of Extinction
Loggerhead nesting along the U.S. Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico is declining. One of the most disturbing trends is that the numbers of loggerheads nesting in Florida have declined 50% during the past decade.
Loggerhead sea turtles are harmed most by commercial fishing gear, including longlines, gillnets, trawls, and scallop dredges. Additional threats to survival are beachfront development, pollution, motor vehicles crushing nests, collisions with boats, and hunting of the turtles and their eggs.
"This year marked a devastating decline in nesting for loggerhead sea turtles on the Atlantic coast," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity."To ensure their survival, loggerheads need stronger protections from drowning in deadly fishing gear," she added.
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. Rising temperatures caused by climate change may alter the timing or location of nesting or 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.
"We need to ensure that there are robust populations of sea turtles strong enough to withstand the havoc that could be caused by climate change," said Oceana marine wildlife scientist Elizabeth Griffin.
For more specifics about how climate change is affecting the aquatic habitat of the loggerhead sea turtle, read Oceana's new report, Climate Change and Commercial Fishing: A One-Two Punch for Sea Turtles at www.oceana.org/sea-turtles.
Why We Should Care
The western North Atlantic population of loggerhead sea turtles is ecologically important. It plays a significant role in the marine ecosystem and food web.
This population of loggerheads is genetically and behaviorally distinct from loggerhead populations in the South Atlantic, Mediterranean, Pacific and elsewhere. If the western North Atlantic population becomes extinct, the loggerhead will disappear from the East Coast of the United States.
Loggerheads are an important part of the southeast coastal ecosystem. Future generations of Americans should be able to enjoy the beauty of new hatchlings and mature loggerheads.
"Through destructive fishing and global warming pollution, we are endangering the loggerhead and its ecosystem. We may lose a species which roamed the Earth millions of years before we arrived," said Eric Bilsky, a senior attorney for Oceana.
By filing this petition, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate the western North Atlantic loggerhead as an "endangered species," and identify critical ocean and beach habitat to be protected from harmful human activity.
The U.S. government has 90 days to respond. The Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant the petition, if the petition provides compelling scientific evidence that action is necessary.
Increased protection and designation of critical habitat for loggerheads may also help them survive the devastating effects of climate change.
"It's time to reverse the conditions causing declines in loggerhead nesting. We cannot fail this majestic species," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist for Oceana.
Oceana works to protect and restore the world's oceans. It is the largest international ocean conservation organization in the U.S., employing scientists, attorneys and grassroots campaigners to help achieve tangible goals. For more information, visit http://www.oceana.org/sea-turtles.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands. For more information, visit http://http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/.