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Feds face lawsuit for failure to protect endangered loggerhead sea turtles

Environmentalists are continually forced to file petitions and lawsuits in order to hold federal wildlife agencies accountable for protecting endangered species and their habitats.

On Sept. 22, 2011, loggerhead sea turtles were awarded protection, which triggered a requirement in the Endangered Species Act to designate and protect critical habitat for the loggerheads.

The government failed to meet the 12 month deadline, which prompted legal action Wednesday from a group of wildlife conservationists, including Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The lawsuit was filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The majestic loggerhead is one of the most widely traveled sea turtle species, with lengthy migration journeys every year that can average 7,500 miles between nesting beaches and feeding grounds from Japan to Mexico.

On this annual journey, loggerheads must traverse dangerous waters with Ocean-borne long-line fishing vessels. Such vessels target swordfish and tuna as they deploy thousands of baited hooks on lines that can extend for more than 60 miles. The hooks catch and kill more than intended fish, which includes thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and sharks. Gillnet fisheries likewise entangle and drown many of these species, including loggerheads.

Furthermore, it has been estimated that more than 1,000 loggerheads die each year as a result of gillnet fishing in Mexico, with more than 400 dead turtles washing ashore last summer. Scientists estimate their numbers have declined by 80 percent.

According to a statement from Center for Biological Diversity, Florida beaches host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the United States, where increasing threats from coastal development and beach armoring can prevent successful nesting.

“The impacts of Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Debbie have made clear that healthy coastal beaches are important — both for humans and for nesting sea turtles. Critical habitat will help ensure thoughtful coastal development in the face of sea-level rise and will help leave a legacy of stable shores for future generations of people and turtles,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana, agreed: “The longer the government delays in designating and protecting critical habitat, the more turtles will continue be caught in fishing nets and have their nesting beaches destroyed. Only by protecting the regions vital to their survival can these populations recover.”

The lawsuit contends that critical habitat protection would help safeguard marine and terrestrial areas essential for migrating, feeding and nesting.

Evidence shows that endangered or threatened species that have protected critical habitat are twice as likely to show signs of recovery as those without it.

In addition to commercial fishing and coastal development, he struggling loggerhead also faces threats from climate change.

Primary source: Press release from Center for Biological Diversity. For more information on loggerhead sea turtles or the Center’s petitions click here.

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Jean Williams, environmental journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.

PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.