Back to Nature (Published on - May 1, 2008)
Save the turtles – 50 percent decrease in nest counts
Photo courtesy of the U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist tags an endangered loggerhead turtle.
The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is the most common sea turtle found in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports :

Nest counts have decreased nearly 50 percent from 1998 to 2007. An updated analysis of Florida’s long-term loggerhead sea turtle nesting data, carried out as part of the FWC Index Nesting Beach Survey, reveals a continuing decline in loggerhead nest numbers around the state.

Loggerheads, named for its large head, are found in every ocean throughout the world. They are typically sub-tropical in nature, nesting farther from the equator than any other species. Humans only have habituated earth for approximately 100,000 to 200,000 years. Of the known species of turtles alive at the time of the dinosaurs, more than 80 percent survived. The seven species found today became distinct from all other turtles at least 110 million years ago. The Sea Turtle Organization reports loggerhead nesting rates have declined from 85,988 nests in 1998 to approximately 45,084 in 2007.

Loggerhead nesting occurs primarily along the east coast from April through September. Females return to their nesting beach every two or more years to lay about four to seven nests, one about every 14 days. Each nest contains on average 100-126 eggs that incubate about 60 days.

Artificial lighting along beaches and coastlines continues to be one of the threats on nesting beaches causing hatchlings from nests to crawl inland rather than toward the water. On developed beaches, coastal armoring meant to protect buildings from erosion has resulted in the loss of nesting habitat near natural dunes. Throughout the state’s waters, collisions with boats constitute the most common identifiable cause of trauma in sea turtles that wash up dead on Florida beaches.

The Defenders of Wildlife Organization published this warning: “Researchers believe higher water temperatures in Gulf Coast areas are behind the increase in toxic algal blooms such as the red tide that killed more than 150 manatees in 1996. If sea temperatures continue to escalate, Atlantic coastal sea life, including Merritt Island’s, could suffer a similar fate.

“Biologists have linked rising air temperatures to the greater incidence of female hatchlings observed in loggerhead turtle populations in recent years, a dangerous reproductive trend for the threatened turtle. Warmer sea surface temperatures have also been related to earlier and shorter loggerhead sea turtle nesting periods, which will most likely lead to less egg clutches oviposited per nesting season.”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium loggerhead turtle facts:

- The loggerhead is a large reddish brown turtle, reaching a size of 200-300 lbs and 3 feet in length. Male loggerheads, as with all species of sea turtle, have a tail that extends nearly a foot past their shell.

- The loggerhead is distinguished from other species of sea turtle by having a tear drop shaped, reddish-brown shell or “carapace”.

- The name loggerhead is derived from the turtle’s large head and jaws, which it uses to crush its favorite food items, crabs, clams, and conchs.

- The loggerhead is the only species of turtle to nest exclusively at night.

- The primary threats to the loggerhead are loss of nesting habitat to beach-front development and associated artificial lighting, shrimping, long line fisheries entanglements, pollution, and being hit by boats.

- Unlike other turtles, sea turtles cannot retract their legs and head into their shells.

Floridians interested in doing their part to help save the ancient Florida sea turtle can learn more about sea turtles and threats to their survival by visiting the FWC Sea Turtles Web site for events and research.

Sources: Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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