Lawsuit Launched to Protect Pacific Waters for Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles Threatened by Fishing Gear, Climate Change

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org
Ben Enticknap, Oceana, (503) 329-4465, benticknap@oceana.org
Todd Steiner, TIRN, (415) 663-8590 x 103, tsteiner@tirn.net, or Dr. Chris Pincetich, x 102, chris@tirn.net

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Pacific Waters for Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles Threatened by Fishing Gear, Climate Change

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological
Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network today
filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government for failing
to protect leatherback sea turtle habitat off the coasts of California, Oregon and
Washington. Specifically, the government failed to meet the
Endangered Species Act deadline for finalizing the endangered
turtle’s critical habitat, putting the survival of leatherbacks in
jeopardy.

On Jan. 5, 2010, the National Marine
Fisheries Service proposed to protect about 45 million acres (70,000
square miles) of ocean waters as critical habitat for leatherbacks.
The proposal responded to a 2007 legal petition filed by the Center
for Biological Diversity, Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration
Network to protect key migratory and foraging habitat for these
ancient turtles along the U.S. West Coast.

Providing the leatherbacks with safe
passage during their annual migration and protecting important
feeding areas are crucial to the species’ conservation. The
Fisheries Service included these elements in the proposed rule,
which could limit activities that harm the leatherback's main food
source or impede the sea turtle's migratory path; but habitat
protections are unavailable to the turtles until the agency
publishes its final rule, now overdue.

“Sea turtles have been swimming the
oceans since before the time of the dinosaurs, yet without more
protection, leatherbacks could face extinction within this century,”
said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “Reducing the
threat to sea turtles drowning on fishing hooks is a key
consideration that needs to be addressed by protecting marine areas
off the Pacific Coast for leatherbacks.”

“We have a duty to protect Pacific
leatherbacks when they visit our shores,” said Ben Enticknap,
Pacific project manager for Oceana. “Critical habitat will provide
another tool for protecting these ancient creatures, but their
survival still hinges on the United State’s commitment to fully
protecting them in U.S. waters to set a policy precedent for the
world.”

“Leatherbacks need a safe haven here if they are to
survive,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island
Restoration Network. “But turning a blind eye to sea turtle capture
in commercial fishing fleets in these critical areas is a major
oversight.”

Critical habitat designations safeguard
habitat for endangered species. The Endangered Species Act requires
federal agencies to ensure that any action they authorize, fund or
carry out do not damage or destroy critical habitat. Studies have
shown that species with designated critical habitat are more than
twice as likely to be recovering as those without.

Background
The Pacific
Ocean population of leatherbacks is in critical danger; as few as
2,100 adult female leatherback sea turtles remain in the Pacific.
The prehistoric turtles can grow up to nine feet long and weigh
1,200 pounds. Every summer and fall, they migrate from their nesting
grounds in Indonesia to ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast to feed
on jellyfish — a 12,000-mile round-trip journey that is the longest
known migration of any living marine reptile.

During that journey, leatherbacks face a
gauntlet of threats across the Pacific, including capture in
commercial fishing gear, ingestion of plastics, poaching, global
warming and ocean acidification. Protection of their foraging
habitats and migratory corridors is essential to their recovery.
Until that protection is finalized, leatherback sea turtles face
many threats that could be addressed by a critical habitat rule,
including pollution, agriculture runoff and oil and gas development.
Notably, the proposed rule failed to address key other threats to
the turtles such as indiscriminate fishing gear and climate
change.

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The Center for Biological
Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with
more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to
protecting endangered species and wild places. 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 500,000 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 35,000 members and
online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity
in the United States and around the world. For more information,
visit www.SeaTurtles.org
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