A proposed change in the conservation status of loggerhead sea turtles would mean more protection for the most frequently encountered sea turtle on Georgia’s coast.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on March 10 that changes were warranted following a recent global assessment of loggerheads. The review also determined that the global population of Caretta caretta is comprised of nine distinct population segments that would qualify as separate populations for listing as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Currently, loggerhead sea turtles are federally listed as threatened throughout their range.
If approved, the rule will change the legal status of seven of the nine populations worldwide to endangered, including those along the southeastern U.S.
“Loggerheads were originally listed as threatened in 1978 as a result of declines in nest counts and persistent threats from commercial fisheries and coastal development,” said Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “After more than 30 years of conservation in the southeastern U.S., loggerheads have not shown any distinct signs of recovery.”
Georgia DNR upgraded the status of loggerheads in the state from threatened to endangered, during the last review of the state’s protected species list, completed in fall 2006. While state and federal laws provide similar protections and share some criteria for listing, the difference comes down to jurisdiction.
For example, current state laws protecting loggerheads are limited to beach nesting habitats and state waters, out to three nautical miles. If the proposed changes are made, the turtles will fall under federal jurisdiction, extending protections from the beach to 200 nautical miles offshore. Sea turtles spend a large part of their lives far into federal or international waters, meaning the proposed listing change would afford them greater protection.
Final determination of the loggerhead’s status is due a year after the public comment period closes in mid-June.
Loggerhead nesting in Georgia appears to have stabilized recently following a long-term decline. However, significant declines have been documented on south Florida beaches over the last nine years.
The nesting season runs from May through September. Federal criteria require that the population increase by at least 2 percent a year for 50 years for loggerheads to be considered recovered. The 50-year nesting goal for loggerheads in Georgia is 2,800 nests. Georgia recorded 995 nests during the 2009 nesting season. Daily monitoring of loggerhead nests began in 1989.
Georgians can help conserve sea turtles and other animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as native plants and habitats, through buying wildlife license plates that feature a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate through a state income tax checkoff to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Both programs are vital to the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).