Leatherback Sea Turtle Swims Closer to Becoming Next Official Symbol of the Golden State
Turtle Island Restoration Network and Oceana Applaud Recent Unanimous Vote
Press Release Date: April 10, 2012
Location: Sacramento, CA
Today the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee voted unanimously to support a bill (AB 1776) that will designate the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle as California’s official state marine reptile. These ocean ambassadors are one step closer to becoming the state’s new symbol. Turtle Island Restoration Network and Oceana commend the Assembly Committee for supporting this bill that will bring more awareness to this incredible species that has been swimming the world’s oceans for over 100 million years.
“Designating the Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle as our state marine reptile will help be part of a coordinated worldwide conservation effort to save a species whose population has declined more than 95 percent,” said Assemblymember Fong, who introduced the bill. “Naming the leatherback sea turtle as our official state marine reptile will demonstrate California’s commitment to protecting leatherback sea turtles, our oceans ecosystem, and recognize the education and awareness this official designation bestows for this revered creature whose migratory pattern includes California’s coast.”
“Few Californians realize that the rare and ancient leatherback even exists, let alone that it has relied on our coast for millions of years,” said Teri Shore, Program Director at SeaTurtles.org (Turtle Island Restoration Network), primary bill sponsor, based in West Marin, California. “Making the leatherback the official marine reptile will help engage people at sea and on shore in conserving this incredible sea turtle for all time.”
AB 1776 was introduced to recognize the importance of California state coastal waters to the survival and recovery of the ancient sea turtle species. AB 1776 is a fun way for Californians to learn about and appreciate the leatherback, while engraining the ecological importance of this ancient species into state law. Among other things, this bill will establish October 15 of every year as Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day in California.
“Pacific leatherback sea turtles embark on a 6,000 mile journey from Pacific Island Nations to spend a quarter of their lives feeding in the rich and productive ocean waters off California, making them ocean ambassadors connecting California’s conservation efforts to the broader international community,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Program Director.
California waters are a globally important foraging area for leatherbacks and these endangered species are an ecologically important part of the marine ecosystem. In recognition of new scientific information demonstrating the importance of California waters to the survival of Pacific leatherbacks, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently designated critical habitat off the U.S. west coast, including 16,910 square miles off California’s coast. Both TIRN and Oceana participated in the 5 year process leading to the final designation.
The Pacific Ocean population of leatherbacks is in critical danger, having declined by 90% in the last 25 years, with as few as 2,100 adult female leatherback sea turtles remaining in the Pacific. Every summer and fall, leatherbacks 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 reptile. During that journey, leatherbacks face a gauntlet of threats across the Pacific, including capture in commercial fishing gear, ingestion of plastics, poaching, global warming and ocean acidification.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 500,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.
TIRN’s mission is to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide in ways that incorporate the ecological needs of marine species and the economic needs of local communities, both of which share our common marine environment. We accomplish our mission through grassroots and policy-maker education, consumer empowerment, strategic litigation and by promoting sustainable local, national and international marine policies.