Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchings Underway: Extra Protections for Rare Species

First Posted: May 06, 2013 09:37 AM EDT

Loggerhead sea turtles are hatching from their sandy nests, and now may be getting some extra protection. A legal settlement was filed that gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service two months to identify suitable in-water nesting and migratory habitat for endangered loggerhead turtles.

Loggerhead turtles are actually the most abundant of all marine turtle species in U.S. waters. Yet their populations have continued to decline due to pollution, shrimp trawling and development of their nesting sites. While they seem to prefer coastal habitats, they will sometimes frequent inland water bodies and will travel hundreds of miles out to sea. The largest of all hard-shelled turtles, the endangered species can reach up to three feet in shell length and weigh up to 250 pounds.

One of the greatest threats to these turtles isn't found in the ocean, though. Instead, it's found on land when baby sea turtles are hatching. Artificial lighting can confuse the hatchlings and cause them to wander landward instead of into the ocean. This has major implications for hatchling survival.

Yet these turtles are doing a bit better with the onslaught of volunteers dedicated to keeping their population numbers high. For example, Pinellas County beaches in Florida experienced one of the most successful sea turtle nesting seasons in the last decade in 2012. Volunteers reminded locals to dim or shut off their lights, and monitored nests.

While volunteers certainly make an effort, it's the FWS that may make the real difference. They're not just assessing suitable nesting grounds, they've also made other proposals to protect the sea turtle. In March, they proposed protecting more than 739 miles of critical habitat for the turtles on nesting beaches from North Carolina to Mississippi. The proposal included 84 percent of the turtles known nesting areas.

"Identifying this habitat will help us work with coastal communities to protect loggerhead nests and ensure that more hatchlings reach the water and being their lives at sea," said Cindy Dohner, FWS Southeast Regional Director, in a press release, according to Florida Today. "Through this action, we are taking a step to draw attention to important habitats needed to support the recovery of this magnificent species."

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