The global population of loggerhead turtles comprises 10 subpopulations, some of which are Critically Endangered.
The loggerhead turtle is the most frequently observed species in the Azores where it occurs in its juvenile stage. It is a relatively large turtle reaching 1 m in length. Its head is large and the carapace is heart-shaped with a reddish-brown colouration. The plastron (ventral side) is yellow. The front flippers are thick and short with 2 claws. Sometimes in the Azores we encounter really tiny individuals, although on average they are between 20 to 30cm long.
Their life cycle comprises different stages: Hatchlings, once leaving the nests, start an oceanic phase usually known as the “Lost years” due to the fact that for decades their actual location and ecology during his phase was a mystery. In the North Atlantic they have been recently recorded dropping out from the outside gyre currents to enter areas where sargassum seaweeds accumulate, and to move out again to reach the Azores and other developmental stages areas (Mansfield et al 2014). Immature turtles then start moving towards shallow waters rich in benthic prey where they forage until reach sexual maturity, time for them to start a long migration back to the breeding/nesting sites. Here they lay between 100 and 126 eggs per nest and incubation time is about 60 days. Females loggerhead turtles nest every 2 to 4 years.
Turtles are possibly regarded as one of the most charismatic reptiles and for this reason conservation efforts may be easily supported by a wider public. However, threats still exist including loss of nesting habitat because of coastal development, human disturbance towards hatchlings, pollution, poaching and by-catch. Only about one in 4,000 Florida hatchlings reaches adulthood.
Every encounter with a sea turtle is rather special. These creatures are like little heroes we are lucky enough to observe during one of their most vulnerable life stage.