August 10, 2016
More than half the world’s 7 billion people live within 150 miles of the coast, putting tremendous pressure on species trying to find space to live and reproduce among the crowds. Among them is the loggerhead sea turtle, which was listed as a federally threatened species in 1978 owing to destruction of its beach nesting habitat, harassment while nesting, overharvesting of its eggs, and bycatch death via commercial fishing gear.
Ninety-five percent of the U.S. breeding population of loggerheads nests in Florida, whose human population has doubled in the past 30 years. Thanks to careful management, the species’ population increased 24 percent from 1989 to 1998, but under intense pressure from development and recreational beach use, it declined dramatically thereafter, raising concerns it should be uplisted to endangered status. The population has increased in recent years, but is still highly vulnerable to nesting habitat destruction and disruption. Just 42,000 nesting attempts were made on Florida beaches in 2011.
DECLARED AN ENDANGERED SPECIES
In 2011, in response to a Center petition, loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific were declared an endangered species, which recognized the peril they continue to face and reclassified them from threatened.
Loggerhead sea turtles make some of the longest known journeys of any sea turtle species. Adapted for these lengthy migrations, North Pacific loggerheads have a small shell and an enlarged flipper. Each year they migrate more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Along the way, they must navigate past millions of longline hooks set in the world’s oceans.
Ocean-borne longline fishing vessels targeting swordfish and tuna deploy thousands of baited hooks on lines that can extend for more than 60 miles. These hooks catch and kill not just swordfish and tuna but thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and sharks. Gillnet fisheries likewise entangle and drown many of these species, including loggerheads. The Center has repeatedly initiated litigation to curtail commercial fishing practices off the West and East coasts of the United States and in Hawaii. Following one successful lawsuit, longline fishing for swordfish was prohibited along the West Coast. However, once the Center gets relief for the besieged turtles in one location, the National Marine Fisheries Service allows destructive fisheries to continue elsewhere. It’s been a shell game, but they’ll persist until turtles are no longer drowning in commercial fishing gear.
Saving loggerhead sea turtles also means ensuring that they have the protections afforded to them under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, in response to a Center petition, loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific were declared an endangered species, which recognized the peril they continue to face and reclassified them from threatened. Now, the Center has committed themselves to ensuring that loggerhead sea turtles have protected habitat in both the Pacific and Atlantic. In October 2012 they filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration seeking to protect critical habitat for endangered Pacific loggerhead sea turtles along the U.S. West Coast and across the Pacific Ocean. After they filed a suit to earn critical habitat for both Pacific and Atlantic populations, in July 2014 the federal government finally protected 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.