2009 Nesting Data for SE States Shows Dire Status of Loggerhead Sea Turtles
Nesting Declines in FL, GA, NC and SC Suggest Impending Fate of Threatened Species
Press Release Date: October 19, 2009
Oceana announced today that 2009 was one of the worst years on record for loggerhead sea turtle nesting from North Carolina to Florida. In Florida for example, loggerhead nesting decreased by more than 15 percent in 2009 (see figure below).
“The data is disappointing, but not surprising,” said Kerri Lynn Miller, marine scientist at Oceana. “The downward trend will only continue unless permanent protections are established.”
Florida accounts for nearly 90 percent of loggerhead nesting in the United States and is one of the two largest nesting hot spots for the population in the world. Florida’s loggerhead nesting population has decreased by more than 40 percent in the last decade and 2009 marked Florida’s fourth lowest nesting season on record.
Nesting was down from 2008 levels in Georgia, but loggerhead nesting numbers remained consistent. Preliminary data for South Carolina shows 2009 to be one of the worst loggerhead nesting years on record. In North Carolina, Topsail Island recorded its second lowest loggerhead nesting year since 2001 and Bald Head Island experienced its worst nesting year on record since 1983. 2009 data also shows that nesting numbers from 2008, slightly higher than dismal 2007 levels, were merely part of the natural flux in nesting females rather than the beginning of a population rebound.
“We must protect sea turtles in the water and on land,” said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Sea turtles tend to forage in the same areas year after year and return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. Destructive fishing gear in key forage areas and development on nesting beaches pose grave danger to the struggling loggerheads’ survival.”
On a positive note, ocean foraging and nesting beach conditions for Kemp’s ridleys in Texas and leatherbacks in Florida appeared to improve as 2009 brought the highest nesting year on record for both species.
Unfortunately, this news follows on the heels of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s new status review of loggerheads worldwide. The review found Northwest Atlantic loggerheads “currently at risk of extinction.” To read the full report, please visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/statusreviews.htm.
Oceana, The Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network have also petitioned the federal government to designate the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead as a distinct population segment and to uplist their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The petition calls for increased protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beaches and marine habitats.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed to respond to the groups’ petition for increased protections by February 19, 2010.
“Additional protections are clearly warranted,” said Allison. “Oceana is calling for comprehensive legislation to protect U.S. sea turtles.”
To learn more about Ocean’s campaign to save sea turtles and for downloadable photos, please visit www.oceana.org/seaturtles.
 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWRI Data. Available from http://research.myfwc.com/features/view_article.asp?id=10690