updated 1/21/2005 1:20:10 PM ET 2005-01-21T18:20:10

Florida’s threatened loggerhead turtles are in a serious and rapid decline, experts say.

The Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20-mile stretch on Florida’s east coast, reported that the number of loggerhead nests has dropped steadily since 1998, from 18,000 to about 8,000.

Experts said the causes could include coastal development and recent upwellings of cold water. Also, Alan Bolten, a University of Florida biologist, said many turtles are getting hooked accidentally by fishing boats near the Azores islands off Portugal, where loggerheads often feed.

Experts said last year’s four hurricanes are probably not to blame.

Loggerhead nesting goes through cycles that can last a few years. But after six years of lows, experts believe something might be wrong.

“Ups and downs don’t last six years,” Bolten said. “This could be indicative of a real decline.”

Loggerheads are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Although the turtles’ habitat ranges north to Newfoundland, and to Europe and Asia, more than 90 percent of loggerhead nesting is done in Florida.

The loggerhead gets its name from its large block-like head. An adult loggerhead can weigh up to 350 pounds.

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