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Groups seek critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles

A loggerhead sea turtle escapes a fishing net. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Pacific populations have dropped 80 percent in just the last 10 years

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After suffering population declines of 80 percent in just the past 10 years, Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are poised on the brink of extinction, and even though they’re listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the turtles do not yet have any protected critical habitat.

But that may soon change, as the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Obama administration to designate critical habitat for loggerheads along the U.S. West Coast and across the Pacific Ocean. North Pacific loggerheads nest in Japan and cross the Pacific to feed along the coasts of Southern California and Mexico.

The lawsuit also calls for habitat protections for loggerheads in Florida, where nesting populations have declined by 40 percent.

“Loggerheads on both coasts need robust protections from fisheries, oil spills and climate change to reverse their trajectory toward extinction,” said Teri Shore, program director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “While awaiting the protections that they deserve, loggerhead sea turtles continue to die, entangled in nets or hooked on longlines for swordfish and tuna.”

A recovery plan developed by NOAA’s marine fisheries service has helped protect the turtles from fishing impacts to some degree, but conservation advocates say more action is needed.

“As seas rise due to climate change, nesting turtles will have nowhere to go unless we protect their beach habitat now from unchecked coastal development,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to save these amazing turtles, we have to save the places they live.”

Critical habitat protections are an important step toward achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean. The designation would prohibit federal actions that would destroy or harm sea turtle critical habitat by ensuring that harmful projects are modified to ensure the conservation and recovery of imperiled sea turtles. Endangered species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering than those without critical habitat.

On Sept. 22, 2011, North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle populations were uplisted from threatened to endangered status under the Endangered Species Act, but the Obama administration failed to protect the sea turtle’s habitat as required by law. It also failed to protect Atlantic waters for the threatened Northwest Atlantic loggerheads in Florida.

Click here for more information about loggerhead populations and to download the Center’s petitions.

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