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, loggerheads have a small shell and enlarged flippers. Some migrate more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches. Along the way they must navigate a virtual minefield of millions of longline hooks and nets set by commercial fishermen.
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 these fish but thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and sharks. Gillnet fisheries likewise entangle and drown many of these species, including loggerheads — as do other kinds of net fisheries.
The Center has repeatedly litigated to safeguard sea turtles from 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. In another successful effort, we compelled the Fisheries Service to improve turtle excluder device coverage in shrimp trawl nets.
Unfortunately it seems every time we make progress, 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.
Endangered Species Act Protections
Saving loggerhead sea turtles also means ensuring that they have the protections afforded to them under the Endangered Species Act. In response to a Center petition, in 2011 the federal government declared loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific an endangered species, upgrading their status from the less-protective "threatened" and recognizing the peril they continue to face.
The Center is committed to ensuring that these sea turtles have protected habitat everywhere they live. In 2012 we filed suit to protect critical habitat for loggerheads. As a result, the federal government finally protected 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
We continue to defend these amazing turtles from the myriad threats they face, from commercial fisheries to oil and gas development to the sea-level rise, caused by climate change, that destroys their nesting habitat.
After extensive Center work south of the border, in 2015 the United States negatively certified Mexico under the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act, threatening sanctions for Mexico’s loggerhead bycatch. In response Mexico created a sea turtle refuge in the Gulf of Ulloa — a critical area for juvenile loggerheads off the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula — and limited bycatch to 90 turtles.
Sadly in 2020 we learned that the 90-turtle bycatch limit — already too high — has been blown for the past three years: 99 turtles died in 2017, 459 in 2018, and 331 in 2019. We’re now asking the United States to reinitiate the sanctions process again, pressuring Mexico to further limit bycatch.