Federal wildlife agencies proposed Wednesday increased protections for loggerhead turtles along both U.S. coasts, including in Maryland.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they had determined that the status of seven of nine population groups of the turtles around the world had worsened to the point that they should be considered endangered, including those in the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida. They are now listed as threatened throughout their range, a less severe status.
The announcement was welcomed by conservation groups, which had petitioned the government to do more for the turtles amid evidence that their numbers are declining, particularly in nesting areas. On the Atlantic Coast, the sea turtles tend to lay their eggs on beaches in the Carolinas and southward, but young ones forage in the Chesapeake Bay, where they like to feed on horseshoe crabs, said Jack Cover, curator of the National Aquarium.
Overall, the turtles in the bay appear to be healthy, said Jamie Schofield, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Anywhere from 10 to 45 dead loggerheads are found annually in the state, she said, but most appear to have died of natural causes. Listing the turtles as endangered would increase the level of governmental protection for loggerheads, said Dave Allison of Oceana, one of the groups that sought federal action. It could lead to restrictions on beachfront development, lighting and some types of fishing, and to closer scrutiny of offshore energy projects, such as oil and gas drilling and wind turbines.
Anyone who sees a sick, injured or dead sea turtle in Maryland is urged to call 1-800-628-9944.