Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Green Sea Turtle Habitat

August 13, 2019, 6:07 AM HST · Updated August 13, 6:14 AM
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The Center for Biological Diversity, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a notice today of their intent to sue the federal government.  The lawsuit alleges a failure to protect green sea turtle habitat, which plaintiffs argue face threats from sea-level rise, plastic pollution and warming.

Green sea turtle by Mark Sullivan, NOAA. Acquired under NOAA permit 10137-07.

In response to green sea turtle population recovery, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 found that growing climate change and sea-level-rise threats mean the turtles remain threatened and still need Endangered Species Act protection. “Despite those threats — particularly to low-lying nesting beaches — the agencies failed to protect the turtle’s critical habitat under the Act,” the lawsuit claims.

“The recovery of most green sea turtle populations is a beacon of hope in our changing oceans, but we’ve got to protect the places they live,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting sea turtle habitat will keep them crossing oceans and loyally coming ashore to dig nests on our beaches.”

A 2019 peer-reviewed study by Center scientists found most marine species listed under the Endangered Species Act are recovering. Listed species with critical habitat protections and those listed for more than 20 years are most likely to be rebounding, according to the Center.

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“Coastal nesting beaches are losing suitable nesting habitat due to sea level rise, as well as increased temperatures, which further jeopardizes the survival of green sea turtle,” said Richard Whitecloud, founding director of STOP. “It is the government’s responsibility to protect this essential habitat to ensure these marine turtles survive.”

Federal experts have found that green sea turtles should be considered 11 different populations called “distinct population segments.” Although some sea turtle populations are improving significantly due to the protection of the Endangered Species Act, like those in Florida, several populations continue to struggle. The Mediterranean, Central South Pacific and Central West Pacific populations remain in danger of extinction and remain listed as “endangered,” according to the Center.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. “Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it,” according to the Center.

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