Endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles that visit California,
Oregon and Washington's coastal waters to feed on jellyfish could gain
long overdue habitat protections to prevent their extinction under a new
government proposal. The National Oceanographic Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) issued a proposed rule to designate more than
70,000 square miles of critical habitat for endangered Pacific
leatherback sea turtles in the waters off the West Coast.
The proposal released at the start of 2010 was in
response to a petition submitted in September 2007 by Turtle Island
Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oceana
seeking greater protections for endangered leatherbacks and their
critical foraging grounds and migratory corridors in U.S. Pacific
waters. See the proposed rule.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project led a massive effort to show support for a stronger, more expansive critical habitat for these imperiled sea turtles, and submitted our comments on April 16, 2010. Read our detailed coalition comment letter, support letters from partners in California legislative offices, and a support letter from almost 20 supporting conservation organizations.
The protected area proposed by NOAA stretches from Northern Washington
to Southern California, but excludes a large expanse of foraging and
migratory areas between the Umpqua River in Central Oregon and Point
Arena in Northern California. The area proposed is much smaller than the existing Leatherback
Conservation Area totaling 200,000 square miles along the coast that
is closed to gillnet fishing six months of the year to protect
leatherbacks - achieved in March 2000 as a result of a lawsuit by
Turtle Island Restoration Network and Center for Biological Diversity. However, NOAA eliminated from the critical habitat as proposed other potentially harmful activities to leatherback
habitat and life cycle: commercial fishing such as longlines and drift
gillnets, vessel traffic, ocean acidification, water quality and wind
power either because the activity was not considered harmful to
leatherback habitat and life cycle (i.e., commercial fisheries and
vessel traffic) or due to lack of information (i.e., ocean
acidification, water quality and wind power).
The critical habitat designation as proposed would prevent or modify the extent of
activities in the specified waters that could harm the leatherback's main food source
(jellyfish) or impede the sea turtle's migratory path into the area
such as new permanent structures. Specific activities identified
were: pollution from point sources (e.g. National
Elimination System (NPDES)); runoff from agricultural pesticide use;
oil spills; power plants; aquaculture; desalination plants; tidal
energy or wave energy projects; and liquid natural gas (LNG) projects.