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Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

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Loggerhead turtle picture
Family: Cheloniidae

Order: Testudinata

Status: Threatened

Description:
A large brown sea turtle with a hard elongated carapace and a disproportionately large head. The adult carapace length ranges from 85-114 cm, and can weigh up to 400 pounds. The turtle is reddish-brown with some yellow appearing around the edge of the carapace (shell) and on the plastron.

Habitat and Distribution:
The most commonly observed sea turtle in the southeast United States. They can be found in deeper waters near the ocean currents or can be found entering bays, lagoons, marshes, or the mouths of rivers. They are frequently observed on the continental shelf around wrecks, reefs, and other underwater structures foraging on crabs, jellyfish, and mollusks.

Life History and Ecology:
The loggerhead breeds from April to September in the United States and females lay nests on the beach from May through August. The loggerhead’s nesting frequency is based on a two to three year interval, but an individual turtle will lay several clutches of eggs during a breeding season, usually at 14 day intervals. Each nest contains an average of 100 eggs which hatch in 60-70 days. The hatchling turtles emerge out of the nest as a group and crawl to the ocean. The turtles may travel long distances and encounter many predators during their lifetime. Maturity is reached in 15 to 20 years and they may live for up to 70 years.

Basis of Status Classification:
When the loggerhead turtle was listed in 1978 all population models suggested the population in the United States is declining. Because it is not possible to estimate the size of the loggerhead populations, all models are based on the number of sea turtle nests deposited each year in the United States (approximately 70,000 per year).

Recovery Guidelines:
The population of the loggerhead can be considered for delisting if, over a period of 25 years, the following conditions are met:

  1. The adult female population in Florida is increasing. In NC, SC, and Georgia the nesting activity has returned to pre-listing levels (800, 10,000, 2,000, respectively).
  2. At least 25 % of all available nesting beaches is in public ownership, encompassing at least 50% of the nesting activity within each state.
  3. All priority one tasks have been successfully implemented (NMFS and USFWS, 1991).

Recommendations:

  1. Protect and manage nesting habitat
    • ensure beach nourishment projects are compatible
    • prevent degradation of habitat from erosion control measures (sea walls)
    • acquire and ensure long-term protection of important nesting beaches
    • remove exotic vegetation on nesting beaches
  2. Protect marine habitat
    • prevent degradation and improve water quality of important turtle habitat
    • prevent destruction of habitat from fishing gears, vessel anchoring, oil and gas activities, dredging activities
  3. Protect and manage populations on nesting beaches
    • monitor trends in nesting activity
    • reduce effects of artificial lighting
    • eliminate poaching and harassment
  4. Protect and manage populations in the marine environment
    • determine seasonal green turtle distribution and abundance
    • monitor and reduce mortality from commercial and recreational fisheries and from dredging activities
    • reduce impacts from entanglement and ingestion of marine debris
  5. Provide information and education to the public
  6. International Cooperation

References:
Ernst, C, J Lovich and R Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press. Pp. 59-73.

LeBuff, C. 1990. The Loggerhead Turtle in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Caretta Research, Inc. Sanibel Island, Florida. 216 pp.

Lutz, P and J Musick. The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 432 pp.

National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Recovery Plan for US Population of Loggerhead Turtle. National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

Content updated Date March 4, 2005