Key Loggerhead Habitat Areas
Currently, the loggerhead sea turtle is listed as threatened and it does not have any critical habitat designated for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
As demonstrated by the examples below, there are numerous locations along the Atlantic coast that need to be protected as key habitat areas for this species.
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
While only 20 miles in length, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerheads in the western hemisphere. Twenty-five percent of all loggerhead nests in the United States occur along this stretch of beach found between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso Beach on the eastern coast of Florida. Densities of 1,000 nests per mile have been recorded for this 20 mile strip of land.
The loggerheads nesting in Archie Carr are part of the South Florida nesting subpopulation, one of the five nesting subpopulations in the western North Atlantic. The subpopulation, while the largest, has declined by over 40 percent in the past decade.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
The federal recovery plan for loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic set a goal of an average of 2,000 loggerhead nests annually for 25 years in the state of Georgia. In 2007, there were only 688 nests recorded, the third lowest number since monitoring began in 1989. Not only is this low number of nests concerning, but the annual decline in nesting of 1.5 percent for 35 years poses an even greater concern
An estimated 177 nests were recorded along the 17.5 miles Cumberland Island’s barrier island in 2007. Cumberland Island has the highest number of nesting beaches in Georgia. The barrier island located in southeastern Georgia and is protected as a National Seashore.
Despite the mandatory requirement for turtle excluder devices, Cumberland Island continues to have one of the highest rates of turtle stranding and turtles are found washed up on beaches dead or injured.
Cape Romain, South Carolina
The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge supports the largest population of nesting loggerheads outside of the state of Florida. The 22 mile segment hosts an average of 1,000 nests a year — more than the total number of loggerhead nests found in the entire state of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Located 20 miles north of Charleston, Cape Romain hosts 25-35 percent of the loggerhead nests in the state of South Carolina. The loggerheads that nest in South Carolina are part of the Northern Nesting Subpopulation which has had a 3 percent annual decline between 1980 and 2002. This is of particular importance because the subpopulation is considered genetically distinct from the other subpopulations that nest along the southeastern coast of the United States.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
The shelf break off Cape Hatteras is an extremely important habitat area for loggerhead sea turtles’ foraging and mating. The foraging and mating behavior coincides with heavy fishing activity leading to high bycatch rates. According to the Fisheries Service’s own assessment, incidental capture in fishing gear is the most significant man-made factor affecting the recovery of loggerheads.
Loggerheads are found foraging in the Chesapeake Bay during late summer and fall. Thousands of loggerheads are found foraging in the Mid-Atlantic each year, making the loggerhead the most common sea turtle in the region. The Chesapeake Bay provides optimum foraging grounds and it is also an area with a great deal of fishing activity, thus leading to high rates of turtle bycatch.
Loggerheads are also found foraging in the Delaware Bay during the summer and fall, which is home to a large number of benthic organisms. The estuarine waters provide important inshore habitat for juveniles and non-nesting adults. However, the loggerheads’ foraging season overlaps with a time of high fishing activity by fisheries using trawls and dredges, thus leading to high rates of turtle bycatch.