It's Endangered Species Day! - Oceana USA
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May 17, 2013

It’s Endangered Species Day!

May 17th is the day to show your love for endangered sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and all sorts of marine creatures.  Why? Because it’s Endangered Species Day! Today is the day to learn and share information about your favorite endangered animals and rally support around the creatures that need it most.  This year is especially significant because 2013 is also the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, the law ensuring that protections are in place for dwindling species in the U.S.

Here are some of the ways Oceana has been helping out endangered and threatened marine wildlife lately:

Sea turtles and fishing gear

Every species of sea turtle that migrates in and out of U.S. waters is listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  However, thousands continue to die at the hands of commercial and recreational fishermen every year.  In the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service authorizes over 50,000 sea turtle mortalities as bycatch every year within the shrimp trawl fisheries.  Under the Endangered Species Act, the government is required to assess whether the impacts of human activities such as fishing, coastal development, or dredging pose a threat to a species’ risk of going extinct in the foreseeable future based on the number of sea turtles that would be harmed during the course of those activities.  However, in making this determination, the government often fails to consider all of the harmful activities that may simultaneously impact a given population of sea turtles (overlapping fisheries, for example).  Oceana is working to require that the government properly account for the number of sea turtle mortalities authorized to occur across all fisheries operating along the Atlantic coast where turtles occur, thus ensuring that proper conservation measures are in place to mitigate for these losses to the population. 

Loggerhead turtle critical habitat

The loggerhead sea turtle is one of the most highly threatened species of marine turtle in U.S. waters, and has been listed as a threatened species for 34 years. However, a settlement agreement now requires that the government establish nesting beaches and ocean areas for loggerhead sea turtles in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by July 1, 2014.  With shrinking population numbers, loggerhead sea turtles are in need of extra protection throughout their lives — from the waters where they swim, to the beaches where they lay their eggs. Thanks to the efforts of Oceana and other NGOs, a deadline has been set for this essential protection. Hopefully, sea turtles won’t have long to wait before their habitat is protected.

Sperm whales and drift gillnets

Sperm whales living off the West Coast of the United States in Washington, Oregon, and California are a highly endangered population. Sperm whales are incredibly unique — their head comprises one third of their body, and they can to dive to depths of 1000m to catch giant squid. Hunted to the brink of extinction until commercial whaling became largely banned in the late 1980s, Pacific sperm whales’ biggest threat now is the California drift gillnet fishery. Sperm whales are fatally caught in this destructive fishing gear at a rate far exceeding the number of mortalities allotted to fishermen. Oceana is working to ensure that this fishery does not expand its reach and that enough observers are placed on board to document bycatch events. 

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, we should recognize that despite these issues, the United States does a better job than many in protecting its endangered species, as many countries do not have similar protections in place for threatened wildlife populations.  However, even in the United States, this Act is not always implemented as it should be.  Only one-third of the listed marine species have Recovery Plans outlining their threats and the appropriate steps to take to aid in rebuilding populations, as required by law.  Despite ongoing efforts to protect wildlife and the habitat essential for their survival, the development of strong conservation measures is often limited by political inaction, funding limitations, and gaps in key information about species and the factors that threaten their continued existence.  Oceana will continue to advocate for scientific research and strong conservation measures that will be vital to the recovery of many endangered species in the U.S., and will make each year’s May 17th an Endangered Species Day with less and less futures to worry about.