WASHINGTON — After encouraging gains in the 1990s, populations of loggerhead sea turtles are now dropping, primarily because of commercial fishing, according to a federal review.
The report stops short of recommending federal endangered status for the species, now designated threatened.
But scientists and environmentalists say it should serve as a wake-up call about the future of loggerheads.
"We are very concerned," said Mark Dodd, a Georgia wildlife biologist. In 2006, the state counted the third lowest loggerhead nesting total since daily monitoring began in 1989.
"As a biologist you're always trying to find that point at which we really have to start doing something drastic if we want to maintain loggerhead populations on our beaches."
The state is not there yet, he said, but it increased the turtles' protections under its own endangered species law.
Loggerheads can grow to more than 300 pounds. The species is believed to be one of the oldest.
The Southeast -- Florida in particular -- is one of the two largest loggerhead nesting areas in the world; eggs are laid and hatched along beaches from Texas to North Carolina. The other major nesting area is in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman.