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News Coverage: Pacific Leatherback Safe Haven Closer to Reality

News that critical habitat for Pacific leatherbacks along the U.S. West Coast must be finalized by November 15 generated media coverage across the nation from California to Washington D.C. Program Director Teri Shore was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle and interviewed on KGO Radio. Campaigner and marine biologist Chris Pincetich also got “ink” in the Bay Citizen. Following is the text from some of the stories:

Feds, conservationists settle suit, set deadline for leatherback sea turtle protections
By Associated Press, Updated: Tuesday, July 5
SAN FRANCISCO — Conservation groups and federal fisheries managers have settled a lawsuit seeking to spur the government to finalize its plan for creating a large protection zone for endangered leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. Pacific coast.

The settlement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to finalize its critical habitat plans for the turtles by Nov. 15.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups sued after the service missed a deadline to designate 70,600 square miles off the coast of the western U.S. as a safe zone.

The large turtles have an immense range, swimming from Indonesia, where they lay eggs, to U.S. waters where they feed on jellyfish. The newly protected areas are meant to protect their migratory routes and food supply. Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

New protected habitat for leatherback sea turtles announced (07/06/2011)
The Obama administration announced new protections yesterday for critical habitat of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.
The new protections could cover 70,600 square miles of Pacific waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington that are home to the turtles and their food source, jellyfish. A final plan that will specify the size of the protected area is due Nov. 15.

The announcement comes after plaintiffs from the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups filed suit against the government, accusing it of failing to meet the terms of a previous legal settlement that set a January 2011 deadline for the creation of the protected habitat.

Leatherback supporters have complained that while the plan is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough in protecting the turtles. Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said the plan needs to include waters farther off the Pacific Coast where certain fishing practices still endanger the turtles.

At up to 8 feet long and often weighing around 1 ton, the leatherback is by far the largest sea turtle. Its migration pattern between nesting grounds in Indonesia and the United States also gives it the longest migration. The species has been considered endangered since 1970, but numbers of leatherbacks have continued to decline, dropping by as much as 95 percent since 1980 according to some groups (Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, July 6). — LN http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2011/07/06/22
Leatherback sea turtles gain critical habitat
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer,  July 6, 2011
This article appeared on page C – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

The Obama administration agreed Tuesday to protect an area of Pacific coastal waters by November as critical habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle, settling a lawsuit by conservation groups.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had settled an earlier suit by proposing in January 2010 to designate 70,600 square miles of waters off California, Oregon and Washington as a refuge for the huge migrating reptiles and the jellyfish they eat. The California zone would extend from Point Vicente in Los Angeles County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation advocates accused the government in a lawsuit filed in April of ignoring a January 2011 deadline under the earlier settlement for a final designation of critical habitat. The agency has not said whether it plans to change the proposed boundaries in the plan that is now due by Nov. 15.

“We believe the critical habitat as proposed is inadequate,” said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, another plaintiff in the suit. Although the zone is a step toward preserving the leatherbacks, she said, it should cover a broader area off the California coast where drift gillnet fishing, a threat to the turtles, is now banned from mid-August to mid-November.
The federal agency has also heard from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which urged flexibility in the rules to avoid a potential multibillion-dollar cost of a new water-cooling system for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the San Luis Obispo County coast.

After the government designates critical habitat for an endangered species, sponsors of all projects affecting the zone must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and take any needed protective measures.

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles, growing up to 8 feet long and weighing as much as a ton. They also have the longest migration, 12,000 miles each summer and fall from nesting grounds in Indonesia to the West Coast of the United States. They were placed on the endangered species list in 1970, but their numbers have continued to fall because of pollution and accidental deaths caused by commercial fishing, according to government reports. Conservation groups said the Pacific population has plunged by more than 95 percent since 1980.
E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/05/BA8P1K6KHQ.DTL


Turtle Protections Could Sink Wave-Power Plans

Agreement would shield endangered leatherback turtles from pollution and other threats
By: John Upton, Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Waters outside the Golden Gate would be protected to provide a safe haven for the world’s heaviest reptiles under a plan that could jeopardize nascent efforts to develop ocean-based renewable energy plants.A vast stretch of California’s coastline would be protected from pollution and other threats to leatherback turtles by November under a legal agreement between environmental groups and the federal government that was filed Tuesday.

If approved by a judge, the settlement agreement would protect 70,600 square miles of the leatherback turtle’s West Coast stomping grounds from pollution and other threats faced by the species.

The move would help protect a dwindling species that swims annually between breeding grounds in Southeast Asia and feeding grounds off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

The protections would force federal energy regulators to increase their scrutiny of the potential impacts of proposed wave- and tide-power farms on the jellyfish populations that provide food for the turtles, potentially affecting a handful of proposed alternative energy projects.

The leatherback turtle has a long list of unusual characteristics. Its shell is soft instead of hard, it migrates farther and weighs more than any other reptile living in the world today, and it eats between 20 and 30 percent of its bodyweight in jellyfish every day. Population numbers have plummeted in recent decades due to hunting, fishing and other threats. The federal government lists the species as endangered.

“The leading killer of the leatherback turtle is commercial fisheries,” said Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist at the nonprofit Turtle Island Restoration Network. Leatherback turtles die after they become tangled or hooked in commercial fishing gear. The turtles and their eggs are also hunted for food and oil.
The turtles can be killed when they eat floating plastic that they mistake for jellyfish. Their habitat is jeopardized by development, pollution and climate change.

To protect the species, environmentalists sued the federal government in 2007, alleging it had failed to protect the species’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

 

Following years of legal wrangling, environmental groups and the National Marine Fisheries Service filed a proposed settlement agreement in U.S. District Court Tuesday that would protect swaths of West Coast habitat.

The protected are would extend out to sea from south of Point Arena in Southern California to north of Point Vicente in Northern California. A separate swath of protected ocean habitat would extend south of the Canadian border to Umpqua River in Oregon.

The protections outlined in the agreement would not directly affect the fishing industry, which is already heavily regulated in the area. But after the regulations become law, farmers and energy companies would be forced to study their likely impacts on the species and could be forced to curtail or modify their operations to protect the turtles.

That could affect existing power plants, including the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and some natural-gas-burning plants, which use seawater for cooling. Such cooling systems can have a deadly effect on the jellyfish swarms that feed the turtles.
The rules could could also affect ocean-energy plants that have long been proposed but are not expected to be built for at least several years, including a potential wave-energy plant that San Francisco is considering building off Ocean Beach. Pacific Gas and Electric Company has considered building West Coast wave-energy plants, which would use underwater devices to capture the force of swells as they roll in from Alaskan storms, but the company is not presently pursuing any of the projects because existing technology is considered financially unfeasible. The protections could also affect proposed aquaculture operations and coastal farms.

“[I]t is reasonable to assume,” the fisheries service wrote in an economic impact analysis, “that there may potentially be adverse impacts to leatherbacks and their habitat in any nearshore waters receiving runoff from lands where pesticides are used.”

The economic tradeoffs could provide more benefits for the Pacific Ocean than merely protecting its leatherback turtle populations, according to Catherine Kilduff, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, which was a party to the settlement agreement along with the Turtle Island Restoration Network and another nonprofit, Oceana.

“If you don’t have leatherback, you’re going to have huge blooms of jellyfish,” Kilduff said. http://www.baycitizen.org/environment/story/turtle-protections-sink-wave-power/

Enviro Groups, US Settle Turtle Protection Suit
By Richard Vanderford, Law360, New York (July 5, 2011)

Environmental groups and the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday settled a California federal lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to finalize a plan to create a Pacific coast protected area for the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

“Plaintiffs and defendants agree that settlement of this action in this manner is in the public interest and is an appropriate way to resolve the dispute between them,” the two sides said in a court filing. The government will have until Nov. 15 to come up with a final version of the proposed plan, they said.

Environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity have since October 2007 pushed the federal government to create a plan to carve out a protected area off the coasts of California, Washington and Oregon for the leatherbacks, which are threatened by commercial fishing and whose numbers have declined 90 percent over the last 30 years, the groups claimed.

The government began the process of creating a protected area in December 2007, but had consistently failed to finalize the plan despite mandatory deadlines in the Endangered Species Act, according to the settlement.

The groups sued in April after the last round of delays, saying the government’s foot-dragging was illegal.

Although the sea turtles were protected under the ESA, the failure of the government to designate a critical habitat off the coast “significantly diminishes their chances for survival and recovery,” the groups said.

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtles, weighing between 700 and 2,000 pounds when fully grown,according to the complaint. The turtles migrate between Japan, Indonesia and the Pacific coast of the U.S., eating up to a third of their body weight each day in jellyfish to survive.

Longline and gillnet fishing has killed the vast majority of leatherbacks in the past 30 years, but the turtles also face threats from climate change and ocean acidification, according to the groups.

Scientists have predicted that the Pacific leatherback may become extinct within decades if steps are not taken to protect them.

“The settlement filed today forces the National Marine Fisheries Service to make a long-overdue decision about protecting Pacific leatherbacks when they are in our waters,” said Susan Murray, a director at Oceana, one of the groups that brought the suit.

“Endangered turtles face too many threats around the world. The U.S. needs to set the example of responsible stewardship for this iconic species when they are on our watch,” Murray said.

A spokesman for the government declined to comment.

The environmental groups are represented by Catherine W. Kilduff and Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Locke et al., case number 3:11-cv-01870, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Editing by Eydie Cubarrubia. http://www.law360.com/articles/255801?utm_source=targeted-alerts&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=case-article-alert