SAVING THE loggerhead sea turtle
Loggerhead sea turtles make some of the longest known journeys of any sea turtle species. Adapted for these lengthy migrations, North Pacific loggerheads have a small shell and an enlarged flipper. Each year they migrate more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Along the way, they must navigate past millions of longline hooks set in the world’s oceans.
Ocean-borne longline fishing vessels targeting swordfish and tuna deploy thousands of baited hooks on lines that can extend for more than 60 miles. These hooks catch and kill not just swordfish and tuna but thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and sharks. Gillnet fisheries likewise entangle and drown many of these species, including loggerheads. The Center has repeatedly initiated litigation to curtail commercial fishing practices off the West and East coasts of the United States and in Hawaii. Following one successful lawsuit, longline fishing for swordfish was prohibited along the West Coast. However, once we get relief for the besieged turtles in one location, the National Marine Fisheries Service allows destructive fisheries to continue elsewhere. It’s been a shell game, but we’ll persist until turtles are no longer drowning in commercial fishing gear.
Saving loggerhead sea turtles also, of course, means ensuring that they have the protections afforded to them under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, in response to a Center petition, loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific were declared an endangered species, which recognized the peril they continue to face and reclassified them from threatened (though the Atlantic population remains threatened).
Now, the Center and allies have won loggerheads the largest critical habitat designation in Endangered Species Act history: 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean — on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This win, in 2014, occurred after five years of delay plus two Center lawsuits.