Turtles are among the most threatened animals on earth, with over 300 currently endangered species. Unless things change soon, all seven species of sea turtles face extinction, including loggerheads. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the loggerhead population as vulnerable.
Named for their large heads that support strong jaws, loggerheads can live to be 80, grow to nearly 2 feet long and weigh up to 175 pounds. Newborn turtles must avoid predators like dogs, foxes and seagulls to make it to the sea after hatching. Once in the water, the tiny turtle will swim nonstop for at least 24 hours to work its lungs and find food. At this time, it could become prey for crabs, fish or adult turtles.
Although turtles and tortoises have survived for about 220 million years, human behavior has become a huge threat to them in recent years. Worldwide industrial development has destroyed their nesting habitats in many places. Bycatch, the accidental capture of marine animals in fishing gear, is a major problem for loggerhead turtles. Humans create waste that can entangle or be eaten by turtles.
Loggerheads are the most common turtle in the Mediterranean. More than 600 turtles are killed annually, in Greece alone. While many turtles ingest fish hooks and plastic debris, the majority of their injuries are caused by blows to the head with oars and axes.
Peter Paul van Dijk, co-editor of a report on the 25 most endangered turtles and tortoises, says that “shells work great against natural predators, but are no match against humans intent on consuming them”. As well, lounge chairs on the beach that can snag the turtles and bright lights that lure hatchlings away from the water at night are potential threats.
Climate change has created the potential to shift the turtle gender balance, since males cannot incubate at a nest temperature above 29.3 degrees C (84.7 F). The effects can already be seen in some places; for example, in Australia more females are born now due to global warming.
According to World Wildlife Fund, “The way loggerhead turtles feed on their hard-shelled prey recycles important nutrients and keeps ocean floor sediments in balance. Loggerhead turtles carry colonies of small plants and animals on their shells which serve as important habitat themselves. As many as 100 species of animals and plants have been recorded living on one single loggerhead turtle.”