One Step Towards Leatherback and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Increased Protection

Written by on October 13, 2009 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law

The Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network  last week reached an agreement with the federal government in a lawsuit over violations of the Endangered Species Act .

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - courtesy of Anand

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - courtesy of Anand

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed to respond to the groups’ petitions for increased protections for both leatherbacks in the waters off California and Oregon as well as North Pacific and western North Atlantic loggerheads by December 4, 2009, and February 19, 2010, respectively.

Two of the three petitions focus on populations of loggerheads in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  The groups are urging the Fisheries Service to designate the North Pacific and Western North Atlantic loggerheads as distinct population segments and to change their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  The petitions also call for increased protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beaches and marine habitats.  The third petition urges the Fisheries Service to protect key migratory and foraging habitat for leatherbacks in the waters off California and Oregon by designating the area as critical habitat. Critically endangered leatherbacks migrate more than 6,000 miles from nesting beaches in Indonesia to feed on abundant jellyfish in these waters.

Leatherback sea turtlesare considered the heaviest reptile on the planet.  They are champion divers, can regulate their own body temperature and tolerate extreme temperatures.  Loggerhead sea turtles on the other hand make some of the longest known journeys for which they have developed a small shell and enlarged flipper.

Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity said:

“Sea turtles have been swimming the oceans since before the time of the dinosaurs, yet without more protection, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles could face extinction within this century.  This agreement represents an important step toward securing the future of these magnificent animals.”

Nesting leatherback sea turtle  -  Credit: Canaveral National Seashore

Nesting leatherback sea turtle - Credit: Canaveral National Seashore

The announcement follows on the heels of the Fisheries Service’s new status review of loggerheads worldwide.  13 top U.S. sea turtle experts forming the loggerhead biological review team, conducted the analysis, that identifies nine discrete population segments and assesses their status.  Both Northwest Atlantic and North Pacific loggerheads were labeled as “currently at risk of extinction.”

Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings - Credit: Jeff Pollin/Marine Photobank

Leatherback sea turtle hatchlings - Credit: Jeff Pollin/Marine Photobank

The state of Florida recently released preliminary data showing 2009 to be one of the worst sea-turtle nesting years on record.  It also shows that nesting numbers from 2008, slightly higher than dismal 2007 levels, were merely part of the natural flux in nesting females rather than the beginning of a population rebound.

Teri Shore, program director at the Turtle Island Restoration Network said:

“We must hold the line on the capture of sea turtles by fishing fleets until stronger protections are considered and put into place. Fisheries are a primary reason for the sea turtle’s decline and the situation is too dire to delay action any longer.”  

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - NOAA's Sanctuaries Collection

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - NOAA's Sanctuaries Collection

In addition to demanding that the Fisheries Service protect sea turtles and their habitat under existing law, the groups are calling for comprehensive legislation that would protect U.S. sea turtles in ocean waters as well as on land.

Loggerhead sea turtles have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, thought to host the second-largest loggerhead nesting population in the world, have seen a decline in nesting of more than 40 percent over the past decade.

To read the full status review report.

See the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2008 Nest Survey Results.

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .

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