Rare Sea Turtles Protected Worldwide; Five Populations Now Listed as Endangered
WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today designated the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Populations of this rare turtle, which spends much of its time off Mexico and Southern California, have declined by at least 80 percent over the last decade. Although loggerhead sea turtles have been listed as threatened since 1978, today’s rule recognizes that some populations are nearing extinction from fisheries bycatch, climate change, and marine pollution, including oil spills.
“Pacific loggerheads need increased protections immediately to reverse their decline toward extinction,” says Dr. Chris Pincetich, marine biologist with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). “Deadly high-seas longline fisheries, illegal poaching and the radioactive debris offshore of loggerhead nesting beaches in Japan all jeopardize these endangered sea turtles.”
“Loggerhead populations worldwide require additional protections if they are to survive this century,” said Catherine Kilduff, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This listing is a wake up call that a host of threats like oil spills, channel dredging and commercial trawling, longline, and gill net fisheries continue to kill turtles faster than they can reproduce.”
Today’s decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service is in response to two 2007 legal petitions by the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, and Oceana for additional protections for the North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads.
Click here to access the 2009 NMFS status review of loggerhead populations, and click here to download more information on the proposed Endangered Species Act reclassification and the original TIRN petition.
The rule separates loggerheads into nine populations, and five are now considered endangered.
The government did not list as endangered Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles despite the fact that Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen an almost 40 percent decline in nesting since 1998 before small rebounds in recent years.
“The failure to recognize Northwest Atlantic loggerheads are endangered ignores the massive impacts of the BP oil spill and increasing threats from shrimp trawl fisheries on this imperiled population,” said Pincetich. “NMFS ignored thousands of coastal residents who cherish these imperiled sea turtles and wanted more protections for them.”
Now that Pacific loggerheads are endangered, significant threats such as longline and gill-net fisheries will be subject to increased scrutiny and may need restrictions to decrease their deadly impacts. North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles nest in Japan, but spend most of their life along the coast of Mexico and Southern California. Swordfish fishing boats from Hawaii regularly hook and drown loggerhead sea turtles on millions of longline hooks.
While critical habitat is not currently designated for loggerheads, this rule triggers its identification, an important step toward achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean. Species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 55,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org.