AUSTIN (KXAN) — Loggerhead sea turtles are found worldwide, including along the shores of Texas. These turtles, known for their large heads and powerful jaws, nest in the beaches of the Gulf Coast in the late spring through late summer. But a recent surge in stranded sea turtles has researchers concerned about the survival of the species, and ultimately, curious as to why there’s a rise.

Background

Primarily found along the Atlantic coast of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle is the most abundant species of sea turtle that nests in the United States. In fact, it’s one of only five that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Loggerheads mate in late March through early June and nest April through September. One of the known nesting sites for female turtles are the shores of south Texas.

Stranded sea turtles

Scientists along the Texas coast recorded 433 stranded loggerhead turtles in 11 months, almost four times the 2012-2021 annual average. Sadly, about two-thirds of the turtles are dead or extremely emaciated when found.

NOAA defines ‘stranded’ as “a sea turtle that is either found dead or is alive but is unable to go about its normal behavior due to an injury, illness, or other problem”. These turtles can be found onshore or floating in the water.

IN-DEPTH: the Loggerhead Sea Turtle was listed as “threatened” in July 1978, and remains at this status today. Nine distinct populations of Loggerhead turtles are listed as endangered or threatened.

Rehabilitation

Organizations like Amos Rehabilitation KeepMission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, and others are working to rehabilitate these found turtles. These groups care for injured or sick turtles and other marine life before releasing them back into the wild.

Loggerhead turtle – Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Reason for stranding surge?

Researchers say they have ruled out “infectious diseases, biotoxins, and fisheries-related captures.” Instead, a change in habitat and/or access to food could be the reason behind the increase in strandings.

NOAA also cites a change in climate as a possible threat to Loggerheads and sea turtles alike. A change in beaches due to sea level rise and/or warmer sand temperatures can be lethal to sea turtle eggs. And like most animals, a change in environment could result in a change in migration, source of food and/or behavior.

To further investigate the cause, scientists, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have recently placed GPS satellite trackers on some loggerhead turtles to track their movement. Their goal is to get a better idea on why so many distressed turtles are turning up near or on beaches.

If you find a stranded sea turtle, immediately call (844) SEA-TRTL (844-732-8785) for help using these resources.