SAN FRANCISCO— The Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana 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.

Click here to download the notice letter.

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.

“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.”

“Each delay in approving greater protections for Pacific leatherbacks further increases the risk of extirpation of California’s most important marine reptile,” added Dr. Chris Pincetich, marine biologist at the Turtle Island Restoration Network’s Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

“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.”

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.

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.


Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 35,000 members and activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit Turtle Island’s Sea Turtle Restoration Project

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

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