Worried about the declining number of the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, the United States declared the species as endangered on Friday.
Taking a serious call on the rapid fall of over 80 percent in the giant turtle population in over a period of 10 years, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated the giant turtles an 'endangered species' from 'threatened.'
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have decided to break up loggerhead sea turtles into nine distinct population segments (DPSs). Five of the DPSs are now considered endangered, while the other four are listed as threatened.
The five endangered DPSs are located in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the North Indian Ocean, the North Pacific Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.
The four threatened DPSs are located in the Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean and the Southwest Indian Ocean.
This division of loggerhead sea turtles into nine distinct population segments will help us focus more on the individual threats turtles face in different areas, NOAA Fisheries director of protected resources Jim Lecky said in a statement. Wide-ranging species, such as the loggerhead, benefit from assessing and addressing threats on a regional scale.
Loggerheads were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as whelks and conch. They weigh 250 lbs. These turtles increase their weight 6,000 times, from hatchling till they become adults.
The population of loggerheads faces the greatest threat across the world from the incidental capture in fishing gear. The National Marine Fisheries Service worked very hard to address incidental interactions between marine turtles and trawl fishing gears. The agency developed turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in cooperation with commercial shrimp trawl industry to save marine turtles even if they accidentally get trapped in shrimp net.
A TED is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom of the trawl net. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small fish and shrimp pass through the bars and are caught in the bag at end of the trawl. When larger animals, such as marine turtles and sharks, are captured in the trawl, they strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening.
In 1987, the United States required all trawling and shrimping boats to equip their nets with turtle excluder devices. As a follow-up two years after, the shrimp-turtle law was implemented. This required all countries that the U.S. was importing shrimp from to certify that the shrimp they shipped were harvested by boats equipped with TEDs. Countries that cannot guarantee the use of the escape devices were banned from exporting shrimp to the U.S.
Loss or degradation of nesting habit is the second biggest reason of loggerheads vanishing from the U.S. waters.
Beach armoring, artificial lighting on or near the beach, marine debris and environmental contamination are also the factors responsible for the declining population of these giant turtles.
Watch the videos below to see how TEDs work.