The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule last week changing the listing of loggerhead sea turtles under the Endangered Species Act from a single threatened species to nine distinct population segments listed as either threatened or endangered.
Scientists believe this will help focus their sea turtle conservation efforts to the specific needs of the distinct populations. NOAA and FWS share jurisdiction for loggerhead sea turtles listed under the ESA.
"The change will help increase protection of the loggerhead and frees up resources to be used where its needed most," explained Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation biologist Amanda Bryant. "It will allow researchers and conservationists to target certain areas where loggerheads are in most danger."
Photos courtesy of SCCF volunteer Julie Reed
Loggerhead sea turtle pictured from a safe distance
On March 6, 2010, the two agencies proposed to list seven distinct population segments of loggerheads, also known as DPSs, as endangered and two as threatened. In the final rule issued Sept. 16, five were listed as endangered and four as threatened.
"We fall into a population of loggerheads that will remain listed as threatened," said Bryant, who followed the ruling to see if it would effect conservation on the islands.
Two of the final statuses, for the Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean and Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPSs, were changed from endangered in the proposal to threatened. Scientists determined that the Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean DPS is threatened because the majority of nesting occurs on protected lands and nesting trends appear to be stable.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Although they are Florida's most commonly observed sea turtle, loggerheads are rare throughout most of their global range. They are found in marine waters from warm-temperate seas through the sub-tropics. Loggerheads are named for their overly proportioned head.
Nesting/hatching season May through October
Adult shell length 31 to 43 inches
Adult weight 155 to 375 pounds
Age at maturity 30 to 35 years
Local status threatened
Diet: Loggerheads eat a wide variety of animals and are one of the few predators of large hard-shelled invertebrates. Examples of food items include jelly animals, copepods, sea slugs, hydroids for post hatchling; mollusks, crabs and sea pens for juveniles to adults.
In addition, some of the fisheries bycatch effects appear to have been resolved through requirement of turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawlers, and longline fishery effort has declined due to fish stock decreases and economic reasons.
"Both agencies agreed that loggerhead sea turtle conservation benefits from an approach that recognizes regionally varying threats," said Cindy Dohner, FWS southeast regional director. "Today's listing of separate distinct population segments will help us better assess, monitor and address threats, and evaluate conservation successes on a regional scale."
Scientists found that the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS is threatened based on review of nesting data available after the proposed rule was published, information provided in public comments to the proposed rule, and further analysis within the agencies. Even so, substantial conservation efforts are underway to address the threats to these DPSs.
Retaining their proposed status, five DPSs were listed as endangered Northeast Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, North Indiana Ocean, North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean and two others were listed as threatened South Atlantic Ocean and Southwest Indian Ocean.
"I think they made a sound decision," Bryant said about the status change. "They looked at a lot of data and I hope it helps."
Loggerhead sea turtles were listed as threatened throughout their range in 1978. In 2008, a biological review team of scientists from NOAA, FWS and the states of Florida and North Carolina identified nine biologically discrete and significant DPSs. Since then, NOAA and FWS have been evaluating threats to and the status of each of the nine DPSs, to determine if they should be listed as threatened or endangered.
Under the ESA, an "endangered" species is "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." A "threatened" species is "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range."