The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule today to change the status of North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. government also proposed listing loggerhead sea turtles around the globe as nine separate populations, each with its own threatened or endangered status.
“The proposed rule marks a turning point in our ability to protect loggerhead sea turtles,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By recognizing and preventing impacts to regional populations and their habitats, we’ll have a much better chance of putting these magnificent, prehistoric animals on a path to recovery instead of extinction.”
Today’s announcement is in response to two petitions submitted in 2007 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, that sought stronger protections for North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads and their key habitat areas on land and in the water.
While critical habitat is not currently designated for loggerheads, the change in listing status means the populations are in danger of extinction and will trigger for a legal requirement for proposed critical habitat, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean.
“Loggerhead sea turtles will struggle to survive if we don’t protect the areas where they nest, swim and eat,” said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “It’s time for the U.S. government to stop delaying and actually establish protections that will once and for all allow this endangered species to recover.”
The scientific basis for the uplisting proposal is a 2009 status review of loggerhead sea turtles worldwide by the Fisheries Service. It identified nine discrete population segments and found both North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads “currently at risk of extinction.”
“Loggerheads will disappear from the Pacific without greater protections from capture in fisheries,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Action is more urgent than ever with the recent expansion of the Hawaiian swordfish fleet and the tripling of loggerhead capture.”
Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen a decline in nesting of more than 40 percent in the past decade.
Human actions, including commercial fishing and habitat degradation, are pushing loggerheads towards extinction. Climate change threatens to make the situation even worse.
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.
For downloadable sea turtle photos, please click here.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands. For more information, please visit www.biologicaldiversity.org.
Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America, Europe and South America. More than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit www.oceana.org.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 10,000 members work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.