|The global population of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle has declined sharply because of commercial fishing, egg poaching and habitat destruction. Photo: Peter Winch, Oceanic Society / SF
Leatherback sea turtle in line for honor
Updated 9:11 p.m., Monday, August 13, 2012
The endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, large numbers of which are currently feeding on jellyfish along the Pacific coast, is in line to be honored just like the now-extinct California grizzly bear - but hopefully, environmentalists say, with different results.
The state Senate voted Monday to designate the giant turtle as the official marine reptile of California. Gov. Jerry Brown now has 12 days to sign into law the enabling legislation, AB1776 sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and most believe that is a virtual certainty.
The legislation would declare Oct. 15
Leatherback Conservation Day in California and, it is hoped, publicize the plight of the turtles, which swim 6,000 miles every year to eat jellyfish outside the Golden Gate.
"Naming the leatherback sea turtle as our official state marine reptile will demonstrate California's commitment to protecting leatherback sea turtles, our ocean's ecosystem, and recognize the education and awareness this official designation bestows for this revered creature whose migratory pattern includes California's coast," Fong said.
The leatherback would join the redwood, gray whale, golden trout, poppy and golden bear (or grizzly) as official state symbols.
Federal regulators recently designated nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast as critical habitat for leatherback turtles, the first permanent safe haven in the waters of the continental United States for the big-shelled reptiles.
Leatherbacks, known scientifically as Dermochelys coriacea, are the largest sea turtles in the world, sometimes measuring 9 feet long and weighing as much as three refrigerators, or more than 1,200 pounds. Their life span is not fully known, but biologists believe they live at least 40 years - and possibly as long as 100 years.
The worldwide population has declined by 95 percent since the 1980s to as low as 2,000 nesting females because of commercial fishing, egg poaching, destruction of nesting habitat, degradation of foraging habitat and changing ocean conditions. They were listed as endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Act.
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @pfimrite