January 23, 2012
Leatherback sea turtle camouflaging nest in Suriname. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
"Habitat protections are vital to the survival of leatherbacks. We urgently need migration safeguards for these ancient animals as they make the longest, most epic journey of any creature on the planet to get to our West Coast every year," said Catherine Kilduff with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in a press release. The CBD along with Turtle Island Restoration Network and Oceana filed a lawsuit in 2009 to push the government to designate critical habitat for the leatherback sea turtle.
The new habitat means the government will consider possible regulations on any activities that could harm leatherbacks or their prey, jellyfish. Such regulations could target agricultural waste, pollution, nuclear power or tidal wave plants, offshore drilling, and aquaculture. Any new regulations would likely benefit more marine species beyond leatherbacks and jellyfish as well.
"This is a major decision to protect feeding hotspots for endangered leatherback sea turtles, but the federal government failed to acknowledge that the turtles need safe passage to get there," said Ben Enticknap, Oceana's project manager for the Pacific Ocean.
Leatherbacks travel around 9,654 kilometers (6,000 miles) from nesting sites in Indonesia to feeding ground off the U.S. West Coast. Conservationists had hoped the U.S. government would designate their migration route as critical habitat as well, safeguarding an extra 74,296 square kilometers (28,686 square miles).
Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, leatherbacks have declined 80 percent since 1980 when there was an estimated global population of 115,000 breeding females. In the Pacific the drop has been even more catastrophic: 95 percent over the same time period.
The great turtles, weighing up to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds), are imperiled by egg collection for human consumption, plastic pollution that can lead to starvation, ship strikes, and, first and foremost, entanglement in commercial fishing gear such as drift gillnets and longlines. Given that the migration route is not under protection, fisheries will not require additional regulations.
Leatherback sea turtle nest. Egg poaching is a considerable problem in many parts of the world. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
Featured video: tuna industry bycatch includes sea turtles, dolphins, whales
(01/16/2012) A Greenpeace video, using footage from a whistleblower, shows disturbing images of the tuna industry operating in the unregulated waters of the Pacific Ocean. Using fish aggregation devices (FADs) and purse seine nets, the industry is not only able to catch entire schools of tuna, including juvenile, but also whatever else is in the area of the net.
Leatherback sea turtles tracked for first time in South Atlantic
(01/07/2011) Leatherback sea turtles undertake one of the longest journeys of any animal as they traverse the oceans in search of food, navigating hazards such as plastic pollution and fishing operations. A new study published in the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B has for the first time mapped their odyssey through the South Atlantic.
New report finds millions of marine turtles killed by fisheries, not thousands
(04/06/2010) Humankind's appetite for seafood has had a bigger impact on the world's marine turtles than long thought. A new report by Conservation International (CI) in partnership with Duke University’s Project GloBAL (Global By-catch Assessment of Long-lived Species) finds that in the past eighteen years it is likely millions of marine turtles have been killed as bycatch by the world's fisheries.