April 20, 2008

Loggerhead Turtles Decreasing In Number on Florida Beaches

The number of Loggerhead sea turtle nests on Florida beaches is on a steady decline, leaving wildlife officials concerned for the animal's safety.

Anne Meylan, an official for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said 4,692 of the 45,084 loggerhead nests counted last year in Florida are now gone.

Florida accounts for 90 percent of the nation's loggerhead nests, which have decreased by nearly half since 1998, when the state reported 85,988 nests.

Statistics show loggerhead sea turtle deaths in Florida have more than doubled during the past decade while green and leatherback turtle nests are showing an increase, in many cases at the same beaches.

"There's no simple answer for this disparity. Disease, oil spills, red tide and boat collisions kill many sea turtles, and beach development can disturb all wildlife," said Meylan.

The rapid decline in Florida has been particularly alarming, where nearly 90 percent of all loggerhead nests in the United States have been found.

Shrimp boat nets and long-line fishing hooks could be affecting loggerheads more than other sea turtles. Loggerheads eat shrimp and other hard-shelled invertebrates, whereas other sea turtles do not.

"A rule was passed several years ago requiring shrimp fisheries to use nets with turtle excluder devices," Meylan said. "But because loggerheads take up to 30 years to begin reproducing, it could be decades before the effect of that rule is observed in nesting numbers."

Of the 196 beaches surveyed last year, some had no nests for the first time. Nesting begins in April, peaks in June and July, and ends in September.

Wildlife officials say it could be decades before a positive change in nest numbers is observable due to the fact loggerheads can take 30 years to reproduce.

Because of their migratory existence, loggerhead turtles are protected by various international treaties and agreements.


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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission