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North Florida Field Office

Northwest Atlantic Population of the Loggerhead
Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) Recovery Plan, Second
Revision - Executive Summary


2008 Revised Plan - (PDF - 2.0MB)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) was listed as threatened throughout its range on July 28, 1978, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), and has received Federal protection since that time. Therefore, the entire species is the listed entity. However, in this recovery plan, we have identified recovery units for the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead population. Establishing recovery units is a useful tool for species occurring across wide ranges with multiple populations, varying ecological pressures, or different threats in different parts of their range. By using this approach, we were able to set recovery goals for each unit and will be able to measure their contribution toward recovery of the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead population.

At this time, the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead population is only a “potential” distinct population segment (DPS) and cannot be considered for delisting separately from the listed entity (i.e., the entire species) until it meets both the recovery criteria for each recovery unit and has completed a formal DPS evaluation and designation, which would involve a proposed rulemaking, public review and comment, and a final rulemaking. (In 1996, FWS and NMFS published a joint policy defining the phrase “distinct population segment” (FWS and NMFS 1996, 61 FR 4722). Three elements are considered in a decision regarding the listing, delisting, or reclassification of a DPS as endangered or threatened under the ESA: discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species, significance of the population segment to the species, and conservation status. In early 2008 , NMFS established a Loggerhead Biological Review Team to assess the loggerhead population structure globally to determine whether DPSs exist and, if so, to assess the status of each DPS. The Loggerhead Biological Review Team will review and synthesize information, render expert opinion, and prepare a written report (status review) by mid-2009. With this in mind, we have identified recovery units for the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead population as follows.

Recovery Units: The Recovery Team designated the following five recovery units for the Northwest Atlantic population of the loggerhead. The first four recovery units represent nesting assemblages in the southeast U.S. The boundaries of these four recovery units were delineated based on geographic isolation and geopolitical boundaries. The fifth recovery unit includes all other nesting assemblages within the Northwest Atlantic.

Northern Recovery Unit: The Northern Recovery Unit is defined as loggerheads originating from nesting beaches from the Florida-Georgia border through southern Virginia (the northern extent of the nesting range).

Peninsular Florida Recovery Unit: The Peninsular Florida Recovery Unit is defined as loggerheads originating from nesting beaches from the Florida-Georgia border through Pinellas County on the west coast of Florida, excluding the islands west of Key West, Florida.

Dry Tortugas Recovery Unit: The Dry Tortugas Recovery Unit is defined as loggerheads originating from nesting beaches throughout the islands located west of Key West, Florida, because these islands are geographically separated from other recovery units.

Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit: The Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit is defined as loggerheads originating from nesting beaches from Franklin County on the northwest Gulf coast of Florida through Texas (the western extent of U.S. nesting range).

Greater Caribbean Recovery Unit: The Greater Caribbean Recovery Unit is composed of loggerheads originating from all other nesting assemblages within the Greater Caribbean ( Mexico through French Guiana, The Bahamas, Lesser Antilles, and Greater Antilles).

Current Status: The Recovery Team evaluated the status and trends of the five identified recovery units.

Northern Recovery Unit: Annual nest totals for this recovery unit averaged 5,215 nests from 1989-2008. The loggerhead nesting trend from daily beach surveys showed a significant decline of 1.3% annually since 1983. Nest totals from aerial surveys conducted by SCDNR showed a 1.9% annual decline in nesting in South Carolina since 1980. Overall, there is strong statistical evidence to suggest the Northern Recovery Unit has experienced a long-term decline.

Peninsular Florida Recovery Unit: annual nest totals for this recovery unit averaged 64,513 nests from 1989-2007. An analysis of index nesting beach survey data has shown a decline in nesting. Results of the analysis indicated that there has been a decrease of 26% over the 20-year period from 1989-2008 and a 41% decline since 1998. The mean annual rate of decline for the 20-year period was 1.6%.

Dry Tortugas Recovery Unit: Annual nest totals for this recovery unit averaged 246 nests from 1995-2004 (surveys not conducted in 2002). The nesting trend data for the Dry Tortugas Recovery Unit are from beaches that are not part of the Florida index nesting beach survey program but are part of the statewide nesting beach survey program. There are 9 years of data for this recovery unit. A simple linear regression accounting for temporal autocorrelation revealed no trend in nesting numbers. Because of the annual variability in nest totals, a longer time series is needed to detect a trend.

Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit: Annual nest totals for this recovery unit averaged 906 nests from 1995-2007. Evaluation of long-term nesting trends for the Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit is difficult because of changed and expanded beach coverage. However, there are 12 years of Florida index nesting beach survey data for the Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit. A log-linear regression showed a significant declining trend of 4.7% annually.

Greater Caribbean Recovery Unit: Statistically valid analyses of long-term nesting trends for the entire Greater Caribbean Recovery Unit are not available because there are few long-term standardized nesting surveys representative of the region. Additionally, changing survey effort at monitored beaches and scattered and low-level nesting by loggerheads at many locations currently precludes comprehensive analyses. The most complete data are from Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Mexico, where an increasing trend was reported over a 15-year period from 1987-2001. However, nesting since 2001 has declined and the previously reported increasing trend appears not to have been sustained. Other smaller nesting populations have experienced declines over the past few decades.

Threats to Recovery: The Loggerhead Recovery Team conducted a detailed analysis of threats to assist in prioritizing recovery actions. The highest priority threats, adjusted for relative reproductive values for each life stage/ecosystem, include bottom trawl, pelagic longline, demersal longline, and demersal large mesh gillnet fisheries; legal and illegal harvest; vessel strikes; beach armoring; beach erosion; marine debris ingestion; oil pollution; light pollution; and predation by native and exotic species.

Recovery Goal: To ensure that each recovery unit meets its Recovery Criteria alleviating threats to the species so that protections under the ESA are no longer necessary.

Recovery Objectives: The highly migratory behavior of loggerheads makes them shared resources among many nations. Therefore, conservation efforts for loggerhead populations in one country may be jeopardized by activities in another. Protecting loggerheads on U.S. nesting beaches and in U.S. waters alone, therefore, is not sufficient to ensure the continued existence of the species. Although this revised recovery plan focuses on activities to recover the loggerhead in the U.S., it also recognizes and encourages cooperative efforts with other nations to ensure the survival and recovery of the species throughout the Northwest Atlantic. The Loggerhead Recovery Team identified the following recovery objectives:

    1. Ensure that the number of nests in each recovery unit is increasing and that this increase corresponds to an increase in the number of nesting females.
    2. Ensure the in-water abundance of juveniles in both neritic and oceanic habitats is increasing and is increasing at a greater rate than strandings of similar age classes.
    3. Manage sufficient nesting beach habitat to ensure successful nesting.
    4. Manage sufficient feeding, migratory, and internesting marine habitats to ensure successful growth and reproduction.
    5. Eliminate legal harvest.
    6. Implement scientifically based nest management plans.
    7. Minimize nest predation.
    8. Recognize and respond to mass/unusual mortality or disease events appropriately.
    9. Develop and implement local, state, Federal, and international legislation to ensure long-term protection of loggerheads and their terrestrial and marine habitats.
    10. Minimize bycatch in domestic and international commercial and artisanal fisheries.
    11. Minimize trophic changes from fishery harvest and habitat alteration.
    12. Minimize marine debris ingestion and entanglement.
    13. Minimize vessel strike mortality.

Demographic Recovery Criteria:

1. Number of Nests and Number of Nesting Females

a. Northern Recovery Unit

(1) There is statistical confidence (95%) that the annual rate of increase over a generation time of 50 years is 2% or greater resulting in a total annual number of nests of 14,000 or greater for this recovery unit (approximate distribution of nests is NC=14% [2,000], SC=66% [9,200], and GA=20% [2,800]).

(2) This increase in number of nests must be a result of corresponding increases in number of nesting females (estimated from nests, clutch frequency, and remigration interval).

b. Peninsular Florida Recovery Unit

(1) There is statistical confidence (95%) that the annual rate of increase over a generation time of 50 years is statistically detectable (1%) resulting in a total annual number of nests of 106,100 or greater for this recovery unit.

(2) This increase in number of nests must be a result of corresponding increases in number of nesting females (estimated from nests, clutch frequency, and remigration interval).

c. Dry Tortugas Recovery Unit

(1) There is statistical confidence (95%) that the annual rate of increase over a generation time of 50 years is 3% or greater resulting in a total annual number of nests of 1,100 or greater for this recovery unit.

(2) This increase in number of nests must be a result of corresponding increases in number of nesting females (estimated from nests, clutch frequency, and remigration interval)

d. Northern Gulf of Mexico Recovery Unit

(1) There is statistical confidence (95%) that the annual rate of increase over a generation time of 50 years is 3% or greater resulting in a total annual number of nests of 4,000 or greater for this recovery unit (approximate distribution of nests (2002-2007) is FL= 92% [3,700] and AL=8% [300]).

(2) This increase in number of nests must be a result of corresponding increases in number of nesting females (estimated from nests, clutch frequency, and remigration interval)

e. Greater Caribbean Recovery Unit

(1) The total annual number of nests at a minimum of three nesting assemblages, averaging greater than 100 nests annually (e.g., Yucatán, Mexico; Cay Sal Bank, The Bahamas) has increased over a generation time of 50 years.

(2) This increase in number of nests must be a result of corresponding increases in number of nesting females (estimated from nests, clutch frequency, and remigration interval).

2. Trends in Abundance on Foraging Grounds
A network of in-water sites, both oceanic and neritic, distributed across the foraging range is established and monitoring is implemented to measure abundance. There is statistical confidence (95%) that a composite estimate of relative abundance from these sites is increasing for at least one generation.

3. Trends in Neritic Strandings Relative to In-water Abundance
Stranding trends are not increasing at a rate greater than the trends in in-water relative abundance for similar age classes for at least one generation.

Listing Factor Recovery Criteria:

1. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of a Species Habitat or Range

a. Terrestrial

(1) Beach armoring, shoreline stabilization structures, and all other barriers to nesting are categorized and inventoried for areas under U.S. jurisdiction. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and implemented to ensure that the percentage of nesting beach free of barriers to nesting is stable or increasing relative to baseline levels.

(2) Beach sand placement projects conducted in areas under U.S. jurisdiction are in compliance with state and FWS criteria and are conducted in a manner that accommodates loggerhead needs and does not degrade or eliminate nesting habitat.

(3) At least 1,581 km of loggerhead nesting beaches and adjacent uplands (current amount as identified in Appendix 4) under U.S. jurisdiction are maintained within conservation lands in public (Federal, state, or local) or private (NGO and private conservation lands) ownership that are managed in a manner compatible with sea turtle nesting.

(4) A peer-reviewed model is developed that describes the effects of sea level rise on loggerhead nesting beaches, and steps have been taken to mitigate such effects.

(5) Nesting beaches outside U.S. jurisdiction are managed for compatibility with loggerhead nesting.

b. Marine (estuarine, neritic, and oceanic)
A peer-reviewed, comprehensive strategy is developed and implemented to identify, prioritize, and protect marine habitats (e.g., feeding, migratory, inter-nesting) important to loggerheads.

2. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes

a. Legal harvest (both commercial and subsistence) in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean is identified and quantified. A strategy is developed and implemented to eliminate legal harvest through international agreements.

b. A scientifically based nest management plan outlining strategies for protecting nests (under U.S. jurisdiction) from natural and manmade impacts is developed and implemented.

3. Disease or Predation

a. Ecologically sound predator control programs are implemented to ensure that the annual rate of mammalian predation on nests (under U.S. jurisdiction) is 10% or below within each recovery unit based on standardized surveys.

b. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed to recognize, respond to, and investigate mass/unusual mortality or disease events.

4. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

a. Light management plans, which meet minimum standards identified in the Florida Model Lighting Ordinance (Florida Administrative Code Rule 62B-55), are developed, fully implemented, and effectively enforced on nesting beaches under U.S. jurisdiction. Annual percentage of total nests with hatchlings disoriented or misoriented by artificial lighting does not exceed 10% based on standardized surveys.

b. Specific and comprehensive Federal legislation is developed, promulgated, implemented, and enforced to ensure long-term (including post-delisting) protection of loggerheads and their terrestrial and marine habitats, including protection from fishery interactions.

c. State and local legislation is developed and/or maintained, promulgated, implemented, and enforced to ensure long-term (including post-delisting) protection of loggerheads and their terrestrial and marine habitats, including protection from fishery interactions.

d. Foreign nations with significant loggerhead foraging or migratory habitat have implemented national legislation and have acceded to international and multi-lateral agreements to ensure long-term protection of loggerheads and their habitats. Nations that have important foraging or migratory habitat include Canada, Mexico, Cuba, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Cape Verde Islands.

e. Nations that conduct activities affecting loggerheads in foraging or migratory habitats in the North Atlantic Basin and the western Mediterranean have implemented national legislation and have acceded to international and multi-lateral agreements to ensure long-term protection of loggerheads and their habitats throughout the high seas and in foreign EEZs.

5. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

a. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and fully implemented to minimize fishery interactions and mortality for each domestic commercial fishing gear type that has loggerhead bycatch.

b. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and fully implemented in cooperation with relevant nations to minimize fishery interactions and mortality of loggerheads in foreign EEZs and on the high seas.

c. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and fully implemented to quantify, monitor, and minimize effects of trophic changes on loggerheads (e.g., diet, growth rate, fecundity) from fishery harvests and habitat alterations.

d. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and fully implemented to quantify, monitor, and minimize the effects of marine debris ingestion and entanglement in U.S. territorial waters, the U.S. EEZ, foreign EEZs, and the high seas.

e. A peer-reviewed strategy is developed and fully implemented to minimize vessel strike mortality in U.S. territorial waters and the U.S. EEZ.

Actions Needed: The Plan identifies 208 actions needed to achieve recovery of the Northwest Atlantic population of the loggerhead sea turtle. These actions are aimed at addressing the 13 Recovery Objectives identified above. The Plan includes 34 Priority 1 actions (i.e., actions that must be taken to prevent extinction or to prevent the species from declining irreversibly in the foreseeable future). Priority 1 actions include monitoring trends on nesting beaches and at in-water sites; minimizing the effects of coastal armoring; maintaining the current length and quality of protected nesting beach; acquiring and protecting additional properties on key nesting beaches; protecting and monitoring important neritic and oceanic habitats; implementing measures to minimize bycatch in large mesh and other gillnet fisheries; promulgating regulations to require TEDs in trawl fisheries where they currently are not required (e.g., domestic commercial flynet trawl fisheries; domestic commercial non-shrimp trawl fisheries south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; all trynets in the domestic commercial shrimp fishery); reducing effort in the domestic commercial shrimp trawl fishery; implementing seasonal TED regulations for domestic commercial non-shrimp trawl fisheries operating from Cape Charles, Virginia, north to Long Island Sound; investigating the effectiveness of time-area closures to minimize loggerhead interactions in domestic commercial pelagic and demersal longline fisheries; promulgating regulations that minimize loggerhead interactions with commercial pelagic and demersal longline fisheries; enforcing longline regulations in U.S. territorial waters, the U.S. EEZ, and on the high seas; reducing vessel interactions with loggerheads; maintaining the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network; working with foreign nations to eliminate commercial and subsistence harvest; encouraging and assisting foreign nations in the development, implementation, and enforcement of fishery regulations to minimize loggerhead bycatch in commercial pelagic longline fisheries, commercial trawl fisheries, and commercial gillnet fisheries; and encouraging ICCAT, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union to implement standards for collecting loggerhead bycatch information and requirements to minimize loggerhead bycatch.


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Last modified January 16, 2008

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