Beaches in Florida, long protected during turtle nesting season, are seeing a strange phenomenon: evidence that the conservation program is working, yet failing at one of the central goals – to increase the population of loggerheads.
We’ve all seen it, but it’s still cool: Image from echeng.
Where the protections have been afforded, green turtles, as well as leatherbacks, have begun to recover, but the endangered loggerhead (of which 90% of the worldwide population resides in Florida) has declined to the lowest point in 17 years.
The reasons behind this success story-turned failure aren’t readily clear, but represent an undeniable trend: loggerhead populations on beaches have been halved over the past ten years.
Most of the hazards to sea turtles, including red tide, boats and pollution, affect every segment of the population. This however, does not account for the significant drop off in loggerheads this year. The only plausible explanation at the moment is that the loggerheads are falling victim to shrimp boats, which possibly catch them as they feed on the hard-shelled delights; a delicacy that other turtles don’t enjoy. The unfortunate part is…
Shrimp boats have devices called “turtle excluders” on their nets, but may have already generated this population bottleneck in the past: loggerheads take 30 years to reproduce a generation, so the impact of the excluders is far from a forgone conclusion.
We’ll even throw in a free album.