Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium - Oceana USA
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April 19, 2011

Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Oceanography legend Jacques Cousteau once said “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” This spellbound wonder is certainly true for our fascination with the 7 species of sea turtles that have inhabited the world’s oceans for four million years and, sadly, which are all now threatened or endangered with extinction. These awe-inspiring ocean reptiles were the focus of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego.

Actress and sea turtle advocate Rachael Harris (“The Hangover”) presented at our Friday reception. She shared a special connection she made with a green sea turtle named Esmeralda while touring a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Mexico with Oceana last year.

Harris was captivated by how expressive Esmeralda was despite her flippers being mutilated after becoming entangled in fishing line and being attacked by a dog while on a beach to nest. Harris’ enthusiastic support for sea turtle protections is shared by fellow sea turtle advocate Angela Kinsey (“The Office”). The two will storm the nation’s capitol in early May to educate Congress about why we need to get turtles off the hook and the need for more sea turtle protections throughout our nation’s waters.  

At the symposium, Oceana’s Pacific Project Manager, Ben Enticknap shared with attendees Oceana’s efforts since 2007 to designate and protect critical habitat for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles on the US West Coast. Enticknap conveyed how imperative it is for the survival of this species that sea turtles be protected at all three stages of their life: nesting beaches, migration corridors, and foraging areas.

Without protections at habitats used during all three life stages, Pacific leatherbacks could face extinction within this century! If the U.S. government officially establishes these protections, this effort can be used as a global model to more comprehensively ensure the survival of these extraordinary creatures.  

On January 5, 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service (part of NOAA) proposed to protect about 70,000 square miles of ocean waters off the US West Coast as critical habitat for Pacific leatherbacks. NMFS was required to publish the final rule (confirming these protections) by January 5th of this year in accordance with the Endangered Species Act. Because NMFS failed to meet this legal deadline, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network are suing the federal government to spur on turtle protections.  

What does this really mean? Leatherbacks are not protected from activities that can cause harm to their main food source or impede their safe migratory passage through US waters until the agency publishes its final rule, now overdue.

About Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherbacks help balance the food web by feeding on jellyfish. Every summer and fall, one of the two last major remaining Pacific leatherback nesting populations migrate from their nesting grounds in Indonesia to ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast to feed on jellyfish — a 12,000-mile round-trip journey that is the longest known migration of any living marine reptile! During that journey, the leatherbacks face a gauntlet of threats across the Pacific, including capture in commercial fishing gear, ingestion of plastics, global warming, and ocean acidification. Protection of their foraging habitats and migratory corridors is essential to their recovery.

A scientific paper published in 2006 identified food hot spots where sea turtles go to feed, called foraging areas, which were not previously known or recognized. These key areas are off the California central coast, centered around Monterey Bay, and in northern Oregon and Washington. Not many key turtle foraging grounds are left in the world and that is why Oceana got involved in this issue back in 2007 to get these areas protected.

Oceana will continue to ensure these protections are established and work to see similar protections elsewhere for these impressive ocean voyagers.

Ashley Blacow is Oceana’s Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator.