Center for Biological Diversity

Speak Up to Protect Sea Turtle Habitat

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On January 5, the Center for Biological Diversity's longstanding efforts to protect key foraging and migratory habitat for Pacific leatherback sea turtles resulted in the first-ever proposal to designate open ocean critical habitat for sea turtles in the continental United States. Responding to a petition by the Center and  our allies -- and a subsequent lawsuit -- the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed to protect more than 70,000 square miles of open ocean habitat off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington for leatherback sea turtles. These areas represent vital foraging and migratory areas for western Pacific leatherbacks, which make a remarkable 6,000-mile journey from nesting grounds in Indonesia to feed on rich jellyfish blooms off the West Coast.

Protecting this habitat is vital to saving critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles. Fewer than 6,000 nesting females remain in the western Pacific leatherback population. These ocean-going giants encounter a gauntlet of longlines and gillnets on their journey across the Pacific, making entanglement and drowning in commercial fishing gear one of the primary causes of the leatherback mortality. Those that survive the journey need and deserve strong protection from such threats when they reach our waters to feed.

Unfortunately, the Fisheries Service critical habitat proposal inexplicably excludes consideration of commercial fishing gear as a threat to the turtles' safe passage through migratory and feeding areas. It also excludes some areas that provide important migratory passageways and food sources. 

This historic proposal is a step forward, but we need to take larger strides. Please tell the Fisheries Service to include all key areas in its critical habitat designation and ensure that leatherback habitat is protected from the main threat to adult leatherback survival -- capture in commercial fishing gear.

Please take action today to tell the Fisheries Service to strengthen its proposed critical habitat protection by addressing fishing gear as well as including all necessary migratory and feeding areas.

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Please submit comments by April 23, 2010.

Leatherback sea turtle photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/rustinpc.