Conservation Groups and U.S. Government Reach Agreement in Sea Turtle Lawsuit
Press Release Date: October 8, 2009
Location: San Francisco
The Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network today reached an agreement with the federal government in a lawsuit over violations of the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, the government failed to meet the 12-month legal deadline for responding to three separate petitions focusing on two sea turtle species in U.S. waters off the East and West coasts.
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.
“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,” said Miyoko Sakashita, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s agreement represents an important step towards ensuring the future of these magnificent animals.”
Today’s announcement follows on the heels of the Fisheries Service’s new status review of loggerheads worldwide. The analysis was conducted by the loggerhead biological review team, which is made up of 13 top U.S. sea turtle experts. The review identifies nine discrete population segments and assesses their statuses. Both Northwest Atlantic and North Pacific loggerheads were labeled as “currently at risk of extinction.” To read the full report, please visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/statusreviews.htm.
“The evidence in NMFS’ new status review of loggerheads is compelling,” said Eric Bilsky, assistant general counsel and senior litigator at Oceana. “Currently at risk of extinction and ‘endangered’ are one and the same. Strong protections must be established as soon as possible if these sea turtle populations are to have any chance of recovery.”
The state of Florida also 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.
“We must hold the line on the capture of sea turtles by fishing fleets until stronger protections are considered and put into place,” said Teri Shore, program director at the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Fisheries are a primary reason for the sea turtle’s decline and the situation is too dire to delay action any longer.”
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.
About the Petitions: 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 uplist 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.
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 in the past decade.
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.