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Group pushes for federal protection for sea turtles

April 6, 2009 |  6:05 pm

Leatherback turtle 

Environmental protection group Oceana is seeking federal protection for six species of sea turtle, notably the leatherback turtle, which it says is so severely threatened that it could become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within the next few decades.

Leatherbacks, the world's heaviest reptiles (the largest leatherback on record weighed in at more than 2,000 pounds), migrate each year from Papua New Guinea to coastal Oregon and California.  Our colleague Louis Sahagun at the Greenspace blog has the details of Oceana's efforts to save the turtles:

"We are pushing Congress to enact comprehensive sea turtle legislation as soon as possible," said Elizabeth Griffin, Oceana's marine wildlife scientist and fisheries campaign manager. "One big problem is residential and commercial development of its nesting beaches. Another is that leatherbacks are getting caught in commercial fishing gear: nets, hooks and fishing line."

Oceana and other groups have already petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate certain stretches of ocean from Point Conception, Calif., north to Lincoln City, Ore., as critical migratory and foraging habitat for leatherbacks.

No one knows exactly how many leatherbacks dwell off the coasts of California and Oregon, but biologists estimate the number ranges from about 150 to 380.

A month ago, however, the groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue over violations of the federal Endangered Species Act because the service failed to meet the legal 12-month deadline for responding to the petition.

"We're trying to decide how to proceed," Griffin said.

All six species of sea turtles found in North America -- the leatherback, loggerhead, green sea turtle, Kemp's Ridley, Olive Ridley and hawksbill -- are considered either vulnerable or endangered. 

Sahagun offers a few simple ways to help sea turtles survive:

  • Recycle: Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for food.
  • Pick up trash: Sea turtles can become entangled in debris and drown, or swallow it, fatally blocking their digestive systems.
  • Keep vehicles off beaches: Sea turtle nests are often hidden in the sand and easily crushed.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Frank V. Paladino

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