Posted by admin | 02.08.2011 | Conservation, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, Turtle Talk

Leatherbacks Lawyering Up

Several conservation groups have partnered to threaten legal action against the government for failing to designate parts of the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles. Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana claim that the National Marine Fisheries Service let the January 5th deadline lapse without making the appropriate designation.

70,000 square miles of ocean off California, Oregon, and Washington’s coasts were slated to become critical habitat for migrating leatherbacks. They migrate through these waters after nesting on Indonesian beaches. Part of the designation would also include potential changes in fisheries management practices – ensuring that the best interest of the turtles was considered.

Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are the behemoths of the sea turtle world, attaining a mass of up to 2,000 pounds. Since they feed almost exclusively on jellies, they migrate to the colder Eastern Pacific waters where the cnidarians are more abundant. Their population in the Pacific is considered especially tenuous, with Chris Pincetich of the Turtle Island Restoration Network claiming that, “they may have as little as 10 years left.”

With all sea turtle populations listed as either threatened or endangered, it is fortunate that there are conservationists out there fighting for the rights of the turtle. Our local hero, Jean Beasley of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, had a legal battle of her own last year to protect coastal North Carolina turtles from the harmful effects of gill net fishing, resulting in new rules for the fishery.