Settlement Reached in Sea Turtle Lawsuit

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 845-6703 (cell) or miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org
Dustin Cranor, (202) 467-1917, (202) 341-2267 (cell) or dcranor@oceana.org
Teri Shore, (415) 663-8590 x 104 or tshore@tirn.net

Settlement Reached in Sea Turtle Lawsuit

Study Says World's Loggerhead Population Urgently Needs Help

WASHINGTON - 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, oceans program director at the Center for Biological
Diversity. "Today's agreement represents an important step toward
securing 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 status. 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 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 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.

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.

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.

 

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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