Loggerhead turtle

Loggerheads are the most common turtle in the Mediterranean, nesting on beaches from Greece and Turkey to Israel and Libya. However, many of their nesting beaches are under threat from tourism development.
Loggerhead turtle swimming in open sea. Zákinthos, Lagana. rel=
Loggerhead turtle swimming in open sea. Zákinthos, Lagana.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther

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  • Common Name

    Loggerhead turtle; Tortue caouanne (Fr); Cayume, tortuga boba (Sp)

  • Scientific Name

    Caretta caretta

  • Status

    IUCN: Endangered (EN A1abd) CITES: Appendix I CMS listing: Appendix I and II

  • Length

    About 92 cm

A great traveller under threat from fishing fleets

Loggerheads are highly migratory and particularly vulnerable to accidental capture in the nets and long-lines of the world's fisheries. Although Turtle Excluder Devices (TED), fitted into shrimp nets in some countries have lessened the threat, the use of these devices is not yet mandatory everywhere.

Longline bycatch mitigation trials are also being conducted in several places across the world, but will they be in time to halt the decline?
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Female loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) digging a nest.
© WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey

Physical Description

Loggerheads are widely distributed in coastal waters, mainly in subtropical and temperate regions and travel large distances following major warm currents like the Gulf Stream and California Current.

The loggerhead turtle is one of the largest cheloniid turtles, and carries more encrusting organisms such as barnacles on its carapace than other marine turtles species. This species is distinguished mainly by a large head and strong jaws.

Colour

The carapace (shell) is a reddish brown and the plastron (underbelly) is pale yellow.

Breeding

The age of sexual maturity has been estimated at between 10 and 30 years but studies in Australia indicate that it may be between 34 and 37 years.

Females nest an average of 3 to 5 times per season. Between 40 and 190 eggs are laid per clutch. Data from the USA suggests that nesting takes place about every 2 years.

Diet

Loggerheads are carnivorous eating bottom dwelling molluscs (conches, clams), crabs, urchins and sponges, as well as free swimming jellyfish and seemingly impenetrable prey such as the queen conch.

Current Population and Distribution

A recent estimate of the numbers of nesting female loggerheads is more than 60,000.

Masirah Island, Oman appears to support the largest single nesting population, with a minimum of 30,000 females estimated to nest annually in the 1980s. The second most important region is the southeast USA, where 5,000 to 15,000 females nest annually, mainly in Florida.
Ecological Region
Mediterranean Sea, Southern Australian Marine, Benguela Current, Agulhas Current, Western Australia Marine, Gulf of California, Canary Current, Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, Bismarck-Solomon Seas, Banda-Flores Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Palau Marine, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, East African Marine, West Madagascar Marine, Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, Greater Antillean Marine, Southern Caribbean Sea, Northeast Brazil Shelf Marine, Nansei Shoto, New Caledonia Barrier Reef, possibly Yellow Sea.

Nesting Area
SWOT map of nesting beaches

What are the main threats?

The main threats which affect marine turtles are:
  • Habitat loss and degradation
  • Wildlife trade
  • Collection of eggs and meat for consumption
  • Incidental capture (bycatch)
  • Climate change
  • Pollution
The main cause of mortality is attributed to fisheries bycatch, and abandoned drift nets continue to drown loggerheads in unknown numbers. In the Mediterranean and the USA, habitat loss or disturbance and pollution are the main threats to this species. In Florida for example, beach "armouring" to prevent erosion, increase in human beach activity, and beachfront lighting have all affected nesting turtles.

Before the introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) approximately 50,000 loggerheads were killed in shrimp nets in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps ten times as much mortality as all other fisheries (seines, gill nets, traps, and longlines) combined. Although the requirement for TEDs has been legally challenged, it remains in force, and the lessons learned may develop into a model for certifying turtle-safe shrimp.
Loggerhead turtle is a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

Why is this species important?

Marine turtles fulfill important roles in marine ecosystems
Loggerhead turtles eat many types of invertebrates, in particular molluscs and crustaceans, and can change the seabed by "mining" the sediments for their favourite prey. Also, loggerhead turtles carry veritable animal and plant cities on their shell. As many as 100 species of animals and plants have been recorded living on one single loggerhead turtle.

What is WWF doing?

WWF works to protect marine turtles throughout the world through specialist programmes and regional projects devoted to the conservation of marine turtles.

This includes:
  • Action to address the impacts of climate change.
  • Monitoring the migration patterns of marine turtles.
  • Improving and supporting trade controls.
  • Protecting nesting sites.
  • Reducing bycatch and promoting smart fishing.

WWF is working to establish a fully representative network of protected areas in the Mediterranean and is collaborating with governments and local conservation organizations to protect loggerhead nesting beaches in Turkey and Greece. Work is also underway in South Africa, Madagascar and Australia among other locations.


 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther
Sekana beach, a loggerhead turtle nesting area purchased by WWF-Greece to protect turtle eggs and hatchlings from tourists and poachers. Zákinthos, Greece.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther
As many as 200,000 loggerhead turtles are caught annually by commercial long-line tuna, swordfish, and similar fisheries.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther

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Did you know?

    • Loggerhead turtles are highly migratory, making some of the longest journeys of all marine turtle species. Recent studies suggest that some juvenile loggerheads have crossed the Pacific Ocean.

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