Marine Wildlife: Sea Turtles
Sea Turtles have been swimming the world's oceans for more than 100 million years, persisting through natural predators, climatic events and even the mass dinosaur extinction.
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Pacific Leatherbacks Gain Protected Habitat
The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of 41,914 square miles of protected critical ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. This is the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks designated in continental U.S. waters and is the largest area set aside to protect sea turtle habitat in the United States or its territories. The final protection comes in response to a petition submitted in 2007 by Oceana, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity.
ICCAT Improves Conservation Measures for Sharks and Sea Turtles
Though failing to improve protections for bluefin tuna, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) increased the number of shark species prohibited for retention in ICCAT fisheries. Specifically, the group improved conservation measures for oceanic whitetip sharks, hammerhead sharks and shortfin mako sharks. In addition, ICCAT put in place new measures to reduce sea turtle mortality, such as the use of sea turtle dehooking and disentangling gear as well as mandatory collection and submission of sea turtle bycatch data.
Protecting Sea Turtles
In response to a lawsuit brought last year by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, NOAA, has proposed designation of 181.000 km2 of ‘critical habitat’ in waters off of Washington, Oregon and California in an effort to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and restore depleted populations of the endangered Pacific leatherback turtle. Though NOAA’s proposal does not include the already established Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area, Oceana is confident that the protections will aid leatherback recovery, as long as adequate fishing restrictions currently in place in the Conservation Area are unaltered and the agency recognizes and acts on the fact that commercial fishing is the largest threat to the existence of sea turtles.
Increasing U.S. Observer Funding
Oceana’s ongoing efforts to increase funding for the fishery observer program continue to produce results. Observers are trained monitors who count everything that is caught by a fishing vessel, including discarded fish, sea turtles and marine mammals. Observers are our eyes on the ocean and provide important information for fishery managers. In 2009, Congress appropriated $32.7 million to the observer program. For 2010, the observer program received $41.1 million, an increase of $8.4 million more than 2009.
Saving sea turtles
After campaigning by Oceana, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to put in place new restrictions on bottom longline fishing off the west coast of Florida that will save hundreds of loggerhead sea turtles each year. The measures reduce the number of vessels eligible to fish with bottom longline gear by 80 percent, limit the number of hooks allowed on each vessel, and ban bottom longline fishing from June to August in waters up to about 210 feet deep. The National
Marine Fisheries Service now must act on the proposed plan.
Protecting sea turtles from longlines
After months of pressure from Oceana and other groups, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council initiated a six-month emergency rule prohibiting longline fishing gear in waters where sea turtles forage, effective as soon as possible. According to recent government data, nearly 1,000 sea turtles were caught by bottom longlines in this fishery in just 18 months, eight times the federally authorized limit. The U.S. government has determined that every species of sea turtle in the United States is threatened or endangered by extinction.
Protecting Sea Turtles
Under pressure from Oceana and other conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service denied an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) proposed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which would have allowed the use of drift gillnets in the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area off the coast of California. Since the closure was established in 2001, not one leatherback has been reported killed in the drift gillnet fishery. Despite this remarkable success, the PFMC approved an EFP that would have reopened the Conservation Area to drift gillnets during the critical months when turtles are foraging off California and Oregon. In denying the permit, NMFS cited a recent scientific study which underscores the importance of nearshore waters off the U.S. west coast as critical foraging habitat for migrating leatherback turtles.
Saving 60,000 Sea Turtles
Oceana successfully pressured the U.S. government to require larger TEDs (turtle excluder devices) on shrimp nets in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Ocean, saving an estimated 60,000 sea turtles a year.