Three environmental groups say they’re tired of waiting for the federal government to protect habitat for leatherback sea turtles – the endangered dinosaurs of the sea. The feds have proposed protecting ocean habitat that includes a swath of the ocean off the Pacific Northwest coast from Oregon’s central coast to the northern tip of Washington.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a notice of intent to sue the feds today for missing the Endangered Species Act deadline to protect habitat for the turtle. The groups filed a petition to protect the turtles in 2007, and they say the National Marine Fisheries Service has delayed its response beyond the legal deadline.
Leatherbacks can grow up to 9 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds. And in the summer they migrate 12,000 miles round-trip from nesting grounds in Indonesia to the West Coast, often stopping outside the mouth of the Columbia River to feast on jellyfish in the river’s super-nutritious plume.
Their numbers are critically low, with as few as 2,100 adult females remaining in the Pacific. Advocates say the sea turtles face multiple threats, including commercial fishing gear, plastics, poaching (of eggs in particular), global warming and ocean acidification.
Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed protection for the 45 million acres (70,000 square miles) of the turtles’ migration route (see map below). But the habitat has yet to be formally designated. The designation would require federal agencies to avoid any action that could damage or destroy critical habitat for the protected species.
Ben Enticknap, the marine watch dog in Oregon for the environmental group Oceana, said other species that have critical habitat in the ocean – whales and Steller sea lions, for example – benefit from protective restrictions on shipping and fishing. And it’s high time the feds make the turtle habitat designation official.
“I think they intend to but they keep delaying and this has gone on for four years now,” he said. “Our patience has run out. We want to see the actual implementation.”