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California Lawmakers Designate Leatherback Sea Turtle as New State Symbol

Legislation Awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s Signature

Sacramento, CA‐ Today California Senators voted unanimously to designate the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the official marine reptile of California and send the enabling legislation, AB 1776 by Assemblymember Fong (D – Cupertino), to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. The governor has 12 days to sign the bill into law. Download the most recent version of the bill here.

The legislation will declare October 15 every year as Leatherback Conservation Day in California, urge conservation of this ancient marine species and encourage schools to teach about the native sea turtle. The bill is intended to recognize the importance of California state waters to the survival and recovery of the Pacific leatherback. Naming this species as the state marine reptile will add it to other state icons including the California gray whale, golden trout, poppy, and the redwood.

More than 20 leatherback sightings have been reported along the California coast this year. Read more here.

“Designating the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as our state marine reptile is part of a coordinated worldwide conservation effort to save a species whose population has declined more than 95 percent,” said Assemblymember Fong, who authored the bill. “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.”

Governor Brown has historically taken actions to protect the state’s ocean resources. Last year the governor signed legislation to ban the sale, trade, and purchase of shark fins, also authored by Assemblymember Fong. In his previous term as governor, Brown signed into law the California Coastal Commission and Coastal Conservancy Acts, and successfully fought federal efforts to expand offshore oil drilling in Southern California.

“By signing the leatherback bill, Governor Jerry Brown will build on his own ocean legacy and enhance California’s commitment to sea turtles, marine life and our oceans,” said Teri Shore, Program Director at SeaTurtles.org (Turtle Island Restoration Network), the primary bill sponsor, based in West Marin, California.

The Pacific leatherback swims 6,000 miles across the ocean to feed on jellyfish along the California coast. More than 16,000 square miles of California’s coastal waters were designated as critical habitat for the leatherbacks earlier this year.

As sponsors and supporters of the bill, SeaTurtles.org and Oceana generated statewide support for AB 1776 from thousands of California residents and more than 30 conservation entities.

“The Senators’ swift bi‐partisan support for this legislation shows the timeliness and importance of recognizing this ocean ambassador species,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Program Director. “With Governor Brown’s signature, California will continue to lead the way in our nation for healthy oceans.”

Read more about AB 1776 here.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network’s (SeaTurtles.org) mission is to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide in ways that incorporate the ecological needs of marine species and the economic needs of local communities, both of which share our common marine environment. We accomplish our mission through grassroots and policy‐maker education, consumer empowerment, strategic litigation and by promoting sustainable local, national and international marine policies. See www.seaturtles.org

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science‐based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 500,000
supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.