Background and Recovery
Then and Now
It is estimated that sea turtles have been around in their present form since dinosaurs roamed the Earth nearly 110 million years ago. Worldwide sea turtle population numbers are difficult to assess because the animals spend their entire lives at sea except when adult females return to shore to lay their eggs. Counts of female turtles coming ashore to lay eggs each year, as well as the number of nests they lay, show that all sea turtle species are at risk of extinction. All six species found in North American waters have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since the 1970s and are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Key Recovery Milestones
In 1970 the leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were given protection under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1970 and then listed again under the updated Endangered Species Act of 1973. The green, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles were all added to the ESA in 1978. Since being listed, no species of sea turtle has recovered sufficiently to be removed from the list.
In September 2011, the U.S. government reclassified the global population of loggerhead sea turtles into nine “distinct population segments” to be monitored and managed separately. While this decision was overall positive for the species, Defenders was disappointed that the agencies decided against their original proposal to classify the Northwest Atlantic distinct population segment as endangered. This population, which nests on U.S. beaches ranging from Alabama to North Carolina, has experienced a long-term downward trend in nesting on Florida beaches since 1998.. Florida beaches host 90% of sea turtle nesting in the U.S.