Loggerhead sea turtles that nest in Southwest Florida will not be added to the U.S. list of endangered species, according to a decision announced Friday.
After years of study and back-and-forth, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the turtles should stay at threatened species status.
The agencies define a threatened species as one that is not currently in danger of extinction but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future; an endangered species is currently in danger of extinction.
Loggerheads that nest in Southwest Florida are part of the Northwest Atlantic population, which is large and widespread. Mature adults are estimated to number more than 60,000. Nesting trends are stabilizing after years of decline, scientists determined.
In 2010, the agencies proposed to list the Northwest Atlantic population as endangered but flip-flopped after getting new nesting data and taking public input.
Three conservation groups — Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network — petitioned the U.S. government to list the Northwest Atlantic and North Pacific loggerhead population as endangered in 2007.
Oceana called Friday's decision "bittersweet" to move the North Pacific population onto the list of endangered species but leave the Northwest Atlantic population at its current threatened status.
The group said the U.S. government folded because of political pressure and said the decision leaves the Northwest Atlantic population at risk.
Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998.
Oceana blames commercial fishing practices and loss of habitat for pushing loggerheads toward extinction; the group says sea level rise from climate change threatens to make the situation worse.