Oceana, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, announced last week that they intend to sue the federal government over its failure to designate critical habitat areas for loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans – an action required under the Endangered Species Act but that has not yet been done.
Loggerhead sea turtles currently face threats from commercial fisheries, habitat destruction, and climate change along our coasts and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately population recovery efforts are slow, as turtles are long-lived animals that typically don’t reach sexual maturity until 20-35 years of age.
The designation of critical habitat is expected to help restore plummeting population numbers, as species with identified critical habitat are more than twice as likely to show recovery in overall numbers. The designation of critical habitat will likely protect nesting and foraging grounds that are important to the survival and recovery of these turtles.
In order to designate critical habitat, the federal government must first identify areas that are essential to the survival and recovery of the species. More than 90 percent of the U.S. Atlantic nesting population of loggerheads nests on U.S. beaches along the eastern coast of Florida. Critical habitat designation is vital to the survival and recovery of threatened and endangered species. Every day the government delays means more turtles caught in nets and more habitat areas destroyed without consideration of the impacts on the population.
After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here’s some not so good news.
Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.
Currently, regulations allow a capture, or “take,” of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year.
The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from “threatened” to “endangered” little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.
Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:
“This decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.”
We agree, it’s outrageous – and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We’ll keep you posted!
Sea turtles can become coated in oil or inhale volatile chemicals when they surface to breathe, swallow oil or contaminated prey, and swim through oil or come in contact with it on nesting beaches.
As of yesterday, 32 oiled sea turtles have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 320 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the spill began April 20.
While some dead and injured sea turtles are found by search crews or wash up on the beach, some never will. Ocean currents often carry them out to sea where they can sink or be eaten by predators.
Our report shows that the ongoing oil spill can have the following impacts on sea turtles: