Loggerhead turtles should have 'endangered' status, scientists say

With loggerhead nestings on Atlantic beaches continuing to trend down, federal scientists have proposed the sea turtles' designation be changed from "threatened" to the more critical "endangered."

The change "marks a turning point in our ability to protect loggerhead sea turtles," said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of three environmental groups that petitioned for the change. "By recognizing and preventing impacts to regional populations and their habitats, we'll have a much better chance of putting these magnificent, prehistoric animals on a path to recovery instead of extinction."

Loggerheads face threats from people, dogs and birds in their few months on beaches as eggs and briefly as hatchlings and from sea creatures and fishing gear during their life at sea.

Since estimating the number of loggerhead turtles in vast oceans is impossible, the best way to gauge population health is to count the number of nests. Mature female loggerheads crawl onto beaches to lay and bury eggs.

The number of nests has dropped 1.9 percent per year in South Carolina over the past 30 years, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The decrease has been similar in Georgia and North Carolina, and higher in Florida.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service took those numbers into consideration in their species designation proposal, released Wednesday. The agency also proposes breaking the worldwide loggerhead population into nine species because turtles from various geographic regions have little to no interaction. In the Northwest Atlantic region off South Carolina, the loggerhead would be deemed endangered, according to the proposal.

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