STATUS:Threatened throughout its range.
DESCRIPTION:The loggerhead is characterized by a large head with blunt jaws. The carapace and flippers are a reddish-brown color; the plastron is yellow. The carapace has five or more costals with the first touching the nuchal. There are three large inframarginal scutes on the bridges between the plastron and carapace. Adults grow to an average weight of about 2OO pounds, although some specimens may occasionally reach 1,OOO pounds. The species feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other marine animals.
RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL:The loggerhead is found in temperate and subtropical waters, worldwide, with major nesting beaches in eastern Australia, Sultanate of Oman, and the southeastern United States. United States nesting occurs on suitable beaches from North Carolina through Florida and to a lesser extent on islands off the Gulf states. The major United States nesting beaches are on the east coast of Florida between Cape Canaveral and Palm Beach. In the Southeastern Region, nesting is also reported for the Culebra Island area of Puerto Rico. Current nesting estimates range from 4O,OOO to 5O,OOO nests annually.
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:From laying to hatching, the United States nesting season runs from about May to November. Nesting takes place nocturnally and at 2- to 3-year intervals. Three or four clutches may be laid in a season at intervals of approximately 12 days. Clutch size averages around 115 eggs with incubation requiring 49 to 68 days, about 55 days being average. The hatchlings generally emerge at night. Limited information indicates that turtles reach sexual maturity in 12 to 3O years.
HABITAT:The loggerhead is widely distributed within its range. It may be found hundreds of miles out to sea, as well as in inshore areas such as bays, lagoons, salt marshes, creeks, ship channels, and the mouths of large rivers. Coral reefs, rocky places, and ship wrecks are often used as feeding areas. Hatchlings have been found floating at sea in association with Sargassum rafts. Nesting occurs mainly on open beaches or along narrow bays having suitable soil, and it is often in association with other species of sea turtles. Loggerheads apparently migrate over long distances. Tagged specimens have been recaptured 1,2OO to 1,5OO miles from the point of release.
REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS:Threats include loss of nesting beaches to various types of human encroachment (including the problem of hatchling disorientation arising from excessive artificial light); excessive natural predation in some areas; inadvertent drownings when the turtles become trapped in fishing and shrimping trawls; marine pollution from oil, plastics and styrofoam; and the lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms.
MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION:The National Marine Fisheries Service has implemented regulations requiring the use of turtle excluder devices by shrimp fishermen. Coastally situated National Wildlife Refuges conduct programs to assure nest protection. Many coastal counties and communities in Florida have developed lighting ordinances to reduce hatchling disorientation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Department of Natural Resources are cooperatively pursuing protection of nesting habitat in Brevard and Indian River Counties, Florida, where 25 percent of all nesting occurs.