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U.S. Government Misses Legal Deadline for Protecting Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Conservation Groups Maintain that Sea Turtle Species is Endangered; Warrants Protections

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2011 – The U.S. government failed to meet its legal deadline Wednesday for issuing a final rule providing additional protections for loggerhead sea turtles, whose populations have faced severe declines over the last decade. The rule is required as a result of 2007 legal petitions by Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana  urging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service to change the status of North Pacific and northwest Atlantic loggerheads from “threatened” to the more protective “endangered” classification under the Endangered Species Act.

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 TIRN petition.

“Every day of delay is another loggerhead drowned or injured in deadly fisheries,” says Dr. Chris Pincetich, marine biologist with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, “Pacific loggerheads need increased protections immediately to reverse their decline towards extinction.”

On March 16, 2010, the government proposed to list loggerheads as endangered in response to a court-ordered settlement over prior delays. It has now failed to take timely action by missing the legal deadline to issue a final rule within one year.

“While the government dragged its feet, loggerhead sea turtles have drowned in fishing gear and oil from the BP spill. Meanwhile, larger threats from global warming and sea-level rise are mounting,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Endangered Species Act protections are needed to promote the recovery of loggerheads and protect nesting beaches from rising seas. Delaying these additional protections only puts these rare turtles at increased risk of extinction.”

While critical habitat is not currently designated for loggerheads, the final rule would trigger its identification, an important step toward achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean.

“It is disgraceful that after more than three years and in the face of overwhelming evidence that the government has yet to address this critical issue,” said Eric Bilsky, assistant general counsel and senior litigator at Oceana.

Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998. Human activities, including commercial fishing and habitat degradation, are pushing loggerheads towards extinction. Climate change threatens to make the situation even worse.

In addition to demanding that the government protect sea turtles and their habitat under existing law, the groups are calling for comprehensive legislation that would protect U.S. sea turtles in ocean waters as well as on land.
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Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 35,000 members 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 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands. For more information, please visit www.biologicaldiversity.org.

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 and Central America. More than 500,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org.