Conservation Groups Sue U.S. Government for Failure to Protect Sea Turtles
Press Release Date: May 28, 2009
The Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service today over violations of the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, the Fisheries Service failed to meet the 12-month legal deadline for responding to three separate petitions focusing on two sea turtle species in U.S. waters off the East and West coasts.
“This is a classic example of the Fisheries Service dragging its feet,” said David Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Sea turtles can’t continue to wait for these essential protections. More sea turtles will be caught and killed with each passing day, pushing them closer to extinction.”
Two of the three petitions focus on populations of loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The groups are urging the Fisheries Service to designate the North Pacific and western North Atlantic loggerheads as distinct population segments and to uplist their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The petitions also call for increased protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beaches 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.
“Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles have roamed the oceans for thousands of years, but they might not make it into the next century if we don’t do more to protect them right now,” said Miyoko Sakashita, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Delaying protective actions while threats like being captured and killed by indiscriminate commercial fishing gear, nesting beach destruction, and climate change continue to accelerate makes it that much harder to pull the species back from the brink.”
The third petition urges the Fisheries Service to protect key migratory and foraging habitat for leatherback sea turtles in the waters off California and Oregon by designating the area as critical habitat. Critically endangered leatherback sea turtles migrate more than 6,000 miles from nesting beaches in Indonesia to feed on abundant jellyfish in these waters.
“We’ll see the end of sea turtles in our lifetimes if we don’t stop them from drowning on fishing hooks and in nets,” said Teri Shore, program director at the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “The U.S. must enforce its own laws.”
In addition to demanding that the Fisheries Service protect sea turtles and their habitat under existing law, the groups are calling for stronger protections, including comprehensive legislation that would protect U.S. sea turtles in ocean waters as well as on land.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members 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 America. More than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit www.oceana.org.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 10,000 members work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.