In the wake of the Trump administration scaling back national monuments and gutting protections for America’s wildlife, Turtle Island Restoration Network, an ocean and coastal watersheds conservation group, is petitioning the U.S. National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to designate critical habitat for the Kemp’s ridley, the world’s smallest and most endangered sea turtle, in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We work with volunteers and partners every year to monitor nesting beaches and protect nests of sea turtles like the Kemp’s ridley,” said Joanie Steinhaus, TIRN’s Gulf of Mexico program director. “The Kemp’s ridley is the world’s most endangered, and most vulnerable sea turtle species. We need to protect their nesting beaches for them now before we lose these incredible creatures forever.”
According to FWS, a critical habitat designation is “a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.” The designation also ensures that federal projects that may affect critical habitat will be reviewed and modified to minimize harm to the species.
TIRN’s Petition requests designation of critical habitat for nesting beaches along the Texas Gulf Coast where Kemp’s ridley sea turtles currently lay their eggs, protection in other Gulf states to protect beaches where they will likely nest as warmer temperatures drive them northward and requests protection for near-shore Gulf coastal waters where the sea turtles migrate and forage.
“As we are all witnessing, the Trump administration is undermining the very premise of protected public lands and waters,” said Peter Fugazzotto, strategic programs director at Turtle Island Restoration Network. “To fight against this backsliding, we must put common sense measures into place like critical habitat to fight against the extinction of sea turtles and other endangered species.”
The Kemp’s ridley population had suffered a devastating decline after 1947 due to near-total exploitation of eggs, slaughter of adults for meat and bycatch during commercial fishing. Since then, their population began to rebound in the 1970’s due to bi-national recovery efforts by Mexico and the United States, which protected nesting beaches in Mexico and addressed bycatch in the shrimp fishing industry. The sea turtles’ path to recovery was then disrupted in 2010, the year of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. In addition to existing threats from fishing and oil spills, Kemp’s ridley nesting beaches face threats from the frequency and intensity of hurricanes due to climate change. The sea turtles also face threats from increased debris like plastic bags in the ocean and microplastics from cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes.
The Petition was prepared by Student Attorneys (also known as “Team Turtle”) at the Getches-Green Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Boulder. Prof. Karin Sheldon supervised and guided the Student Attorneys in their research and preparation of the Petition and most recent scientific research supporting its request.