Today’s Gulf sea turtle – Loggerhead

As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notesall five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was true even before the BP oil disaster). We’re looking at fast facts about these species – this week, it’s the Loggerhead:

Loggerhead Sea Turtle
(Caretta caretta)

  • named for their large heads
  • listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1978
  • adults generally grow to be 31 to 45 inches large, and weigh 170 to 250 pounds
  • reach sexual maturity around 20 to 30 years old; loggerheads are estimate to live up to and beyond 50 years
  • dine on jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, shrimp, squid, barnacles, sea urchins and occasionally seaweed
  • thought to be the largest hard shell turtle species
  • in the Gulf, nest primarily along the Florida coast
  • the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is the most important nesting area for loggerheads in the western hemisphere

Loggerhead turtles are threatened by the same things imperiling all sea turtles — marine debris, degradation of nesting habitat, capture for meat and eggs. One of the primary threats they face is incidental capture in fishing gear – from nets to longlines. Commercial shrimp trawlers have historically had a relatively high incidental turtle catch. Now, those trawlers’ nets have turtle excluder devices (TEDs). A TED is an grid of crossbars at the neck of the trawl net – it allows turtles and sharks caught in the net to get out. This ‘escape hatch’ is credited with saving countless sea turtles. The US government says it’s working with other countries who export shrimp to the US to require encourage shrimp trawlers to use TEDs. The photo on left is a loggerhead escaping a trawl net via a TED.

Photos courtesy NOAA: top photo, Marco Giuliano/ Fondazione Cetacea

Information sources:
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
National Park Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Connecticut Dept of Environmental Protection

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refuges in the first oil impact zone?

Much news, none of  it good, is streaming to us from the Gulf of Mexico, where an exploded oil rig has likely claimed 11 human lives and its uncapped well has gushed over 818 tons of crude oil into the sea so far and is spewing out more than 210,000 gallons a day. Today the oil slick covers an area at least 600 square miles large.

First in line in the potential impact zone? Two jewels of the national wildlife refuge system:

The Delta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1935 as a bird sanctuary, is home to ducks, geese, raptors, wading birds, shorebirds, and several bird rookeries. Accessible to humans only by boat, the Mississippi Delta refuge is mostly marsh habitat.

To its northeast, the Breton National Wildife Refuge, established 106 years ago by Theodore Roosevelt, is a series of barrier islands whose sizes and shapes are constantly altered by tropical storms, wind, and tides. The refuge is habitat for colonies of nesting wading birds and seabirds, and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl.

Right now, it’s teeming with brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and royal, Caspian, and Sandwich terns – it’s the beginning of their nesting season.

“They [BP engineers] are putting out some containment booms to the south and east of Breton refuge,” Byron Fortier of the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex/Fish & Wildlife Service, told Oceanwire. “That might deflect any oil that might be headed that way.”

But, he says, “If any quantities of oil reach them, they will be very much impacted.”

Photo and map courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service