Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Written by on December 3, 2012 in Policy & Ocean Law

Editor’s Note–Oceana is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. It was founded in 2001 and is now the largest international organization focused entirely on marine conservation. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Oceana.

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles
By Amanda Keledjian, marine scientist at Oceana

A young loggerhead sea turtle swiming near Panama City, FL.

A young loggerhead sea turtle swiming near Panama City, FL. Photo credit: NOAA.

The loggerhead sea turtleis the second largest sea turtle species, weighing up to 350 pounds and taking 30 years to mature into the strong-jawed powerhouse that swims through tropical and warm waters around the world. However, the continued survival of this majestic creature is in jeopardy despite being listed under the Endangered Species Act since its creation in 1973.  Sea turtles are threatened by habitat destruction, climate change, illegal poaching, disease, and harmful fishing gear that have all taken a toll on populations worldwide.  When a species or population is listed under the Endangered Species Act, habitat areas that are deemed essential for survival are delineated and then designated for protection. Unfortunately, these feeding and breeding areas have not yet been designated for loggerhead turtles.  Without this important step, the recovery of loggerhead sea turtles will remain uncertain. That is why Oceana, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, announced their intention to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service last month over their failure to designate these protected habitat areas for the threatened species.

The notice of intent was filed in order to prompt the government to identify areas that are essential to the survival and recovery of loggerhead sea turtles. The designation of critical habitat would ensure that sea turtles are a major stakeholder considered during the planning of development and conservation projects.  As a result, the loggerhead sea turtle, which are slow to reach maturity and do not lay eggs each year, will have a much better chance of rebuilding toward historic population sizes and persisting into the future. Nesting numbers for loggerhead turtles on Florida beaches alone had declined by more than 40 percent in 2006.  Despite recent growth, they are still at risk for further decline if these areas are not protected. Studies have shown that by designating critical habitat, species listed as threatened or endangered are more than twice as likely to show recovery and population growth than those without.

It is imperative that the federal government identifies and designates critical habitat areas for these threatened animals. Without this significant protection, these prehistoric sea turtles will continue to suffer at the hands of rising beach temperatures, dwindling nesting area, polluted coastal waters, and nonselective fishing methods that threaten their survival.

Loggerhead sea turtle.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit: Marco Giuliano, Fondazione Cetacea, NOAA.

To learn more about Oceana’s work with sea turtles, please visit us at www.oceana.org.

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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