WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. government failed to meet its legal deadline Wednesday for issuing a final rule providing additional protections for loggerhead sea turtles, whose populations have faced severe declines over the past decade. The rule is required as a result of 2007 legal petitions by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network urging the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to change the status of North Pacific and northwest Atlantic loggerheads from "threatened" to the more protective "endangered" classification under the Endangered Species Act.
"It is disgraceful that after more than three years and in the face of overwhelming evidence the government has yet to address this critical issue," said Eric Bilsky, assistant general counsel and senior litigator at Oceana.
On March 16, 2010, the government proposed to list loggerheads as endangered in response to a court-ordered settlement over prior delays. It has now failed to take timely action by missing the legal deadline to issue a final rule within one year.
"While the government dragged its feet, loggerhead sea turtles have drowned in fishing gear and oil from the BP spill. Meanwhile, larger threats from global warming and sea-level rise are mounting," said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Endangered Species Act protections are needed to promote the recovery of loggerheads and protect nesting beaches from rising seas. Delaying these additional protections only puts these rare turtles at increased risk of extinction."
While critical habitat is not currently designated for loggerheads, the final rule would trigger its identification, an important step toward achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean.
"Every day of delay is another loggerhead drowned or injured in deadly fisheries," said Dr. Chris Pincetich, marine biologist with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998. Human activities, including commercial fishing and habitat degradation, are pushing loggerheads towards extinction. Climate change threatens to make the situation even worse.
In addition to demanding that the government protect sea turtles and their habitat under existing law, the groups are calling for comprehensive legislation that would protect U.S. sea turtles in ocean waters as well as on land.
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