U.S. Issues Bittersweet Decision on Loggerhead Sea Turtles

From Oceana Newswire

The United States government issued a bittersweet decision today in response to a nearly four-year debate over the status of loggerhead sea turtles. Specifically, the government decided to uplist the status of North Pacific loggerheads from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), while leaving the Northwest Atlantic population listed as threatened. The ruling also designates nine distinct loggerhead populations around the world, each with its own threatened or endangered status.

“Sea turtles are disappearing right before this generation’s eyes,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor for Oceana. “While today’s designation gives new hope for North Pacific loggerheads, it leaves the fate of the species in the Atlantic at risk.”

In 2009, the government issued a status review of loggerhead sea turtles worldwide, which identified both North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads as “currently at risk of extinction.” In addition to denying increased protections for Northwest Atlantic loggerheads, the government has delayed proposing any critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles, which is an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding areas in the ocean. Critical habitat areas are intended to provide sea turtles with the protections needed for their populations to grow enough so they are no longer listed under the ESA. Rather than proposing critical habitat today, the government has announced a separate rulemaking process to identify proposed areas for protection. 

“The government completely dismissed its own scientific conclusions for uplisting Northwest Atlantic loggerheads,” said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, senor manager for marine wildlife at Oceana. “ESA listing decisions are legally required to be based entirely on science. This is yet another example of the U.S. government folding because of political pressure. We need less foot dragging and more action if loggerheads populations are to recover.”

Today’s announcement is in response to two petitions submitted in 2007 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, that sought stronger protections for loggerheads in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and for their key habitat areas on land and in the water.

Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998.

Human actions, including commercial fishing and habitat degradation, are pushing loggerheads towards extinction. Climate change threatens to make the situation even worse.

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