ASHINGTON, March 12, 2009 – The Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed two 60-day notices of intent to sue with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today over violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specifically, NMFS failed to meet the legal 12-month deadline for responding to three separate petitions that focused on two sea turtle species in U.S. waters off the East and West coasts.

In addition to demanding that NMFS comply with existing laws, the groups are also calling for stronger protections for sea turtles, including comprehensive legislation that would protect U.S. sea turtles in ocean waters and on land.

“The U.S. government has knowingly failed to respond to our petitions,” said David Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Sea turtles in all U.S. waters are at risk of extinction and the agency responsible for their protection is failing to do its job. If we hope to ensure the long-term survival of these majestic species, we must move quickly to enact a comprehensive law to protect U.S. sea turtles.”

Two of the three petitions focus on populations of loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The groups are urging NMFS to designate the North Pacific and western North Atlantic loggerhead as distinct population segments and to change their status from threatened to endangered under the ESA. The petitions also call for increased protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beach and marine habitats.

Loggerhead sea turtles have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, thought to host the second largest loggerhead nesting population in the world, have seen a decline in nesting of more than 40 percent in the past decade.

“The threats to the loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles’ existence, ranging from being captured and killed by indiscriminate commercial fishing gear to nesting beach destruction and climate change, continue to grow even as the species’ numbers dwindle,” said Andrea Treece, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If these magnificent animals are to survive, the federal agencies entrusted to protect them cannot be allowed to ignore the law.”

The third petition urges NMFS to protect key migratory and foraging habitat for leatherback sea turtles in the waters off of California and Oregon by designating the area as critical habitat. Critically endangered leatherback sea turtles migrate over 6,000 miles from nesting beaches in Indonesia to feed on abundant jellyfish in these waters.

“It’s time for the Obama administration to overturn the Bush policies of hostility and disregard toward endangered marine species. We are asking for immediate action based on the best available science to determine their current endangered status and better protect them by creating designated critical habitat,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

To read the conservation coalition’s 60-day notice of intent to sue that focuses on loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, please click here. To read the coalition’s 60-day notice of intent to sue that focuses on leatherback sea turtles in the waters off of California and Oregon, please click here.