Sunday, 29 January 2012

New 40,000 square mile haven for Pacific’s leatherbacks

But how do they get there safely?
January 2012: Protection for 40,000 square miles of protected critical ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California are now in place - creating a haven for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. The new protection laws establish critical habitat in areas where leatherbacks feed on jellyfish after swimming 6,000 miles across the ocean from nests in Indonesia.
This is the first permanently designated area for leatherbacks in continental US waters and, although it is substantially smaller than the original proposals for 70,600 square miles, it is the largest area set aside to protect sea turtle habitat in the United States or its territories.
Now we need migration safeguards for these ancient animals‘Habitat protections are vital to the survival of leatherbacks. We urgently need migration safeguards for these ancient animals as they make the longest, most epic journey of any creature on the planet to get to our West Coast every year,' said Catherine Kilduff of Florida's Center for Biological Diversity.
However, there are concerns that the new rules do not extend to protect turtles' migratory paths from commercial fishing, water pollution and marine vessel traffic. The new regulation excludes protections for migration through these habitats and also excludes consideration of dangers to the turtles from fishing, such as mile-long drift nets used for swordfish off California.
‘This is a major decision to protect feeding hotspots for endangered leatherback sea turtles, but the federal government failed to acknowledge that the turtles need safe passage to get there,' said Ben Enticknap, Oceana's Pacific project manager.
‘Leatherbacks finally have a safe haven along our coast, but still face extinction due growing threats from fisheries, pollution and ship strikes,' said Teri Shore, programme director at in California.
Pacific leatherback population declined by more than 95 per centMile-long drift gillnets and longline gear used to catch swordfish, sharks and tunas are the two types of fishing gear most commonly known to capture and kill leatherback sea turtles. While current regulations restrict fishing to protect these sea turtles, the Fisheries Service is currently developing proposals to expand the use of these fishing gears into areas important to the leatherback.
The largest of all sea turtles, leatherbacks can grow up to nine feet long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Pacific leatherback sea turtles have declined more than 95 per cent since the 1980s; as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain. The species dates from the time of the dinosaurs, having survived for 100 million years virtually unchanged; but now they face the danger of extinction.
The leatherback sea turtles feeding off the US West Coast make the longest known migration of any reptile, across the Pacific Ocean where they nest on beaches in Papua, Indonesia. They make this great migration to feed on jellyfish in the productive ocean waters of the American Pacific. They are generally found off the West Coast in the summer and fall months.

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