Target: NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan and U.S. FWS Director Daniel Ashe
Goal: Thank government organizations for protecting sea turtles and urge further protections for these endangered animals
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made history recently by jointly declaring the largest critical habitat designation in American history. The loggerhead sea turtle habitat protections include 685 miles of beach on the East Coast, running from Mississippi to North Carolina and covering 300,000 square miles of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The area is home to between 70,000 and 90,000 nesting sites per year, and comprises 84 percent of all known nesting areas for the large sea turtles.
Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle in the southeastern U.S., and can live up to 40 years or longer and weigh as much as 250 pounds. They were first listed as endangered in 1978, due to high mortality from shrimping operations and commercial development of traditional nesting sites. Despite recent successes from innovations such as turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for the shrimp trawling industry and lighting regulations on commercial beaches, sea turtles continue to face persistent threats from fishing gear, pollution, and climate change.
Loggerheads are particularly vulnerable to accidental capture and entanglement by fishing gear because of their highly migratory nature, often traveling thousands of miles a year. It is estimated that up to 50,000 sea turtles get tangled in fishing nets every year in the Gulf of Mexico alone. Although loggerheads nest primarily in the subtropics, East Coast populations have been observed foraging as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as Argentina. Sea turtles are also especially affected by plastic pollution, since floating plastic bags closely resemble jellyfish, one of their preferred foods.
The critical habitat designation requires that any federally regulated activity, such as oil drilling or large-scale fishing, pass a rigorous environmental assessment in order to operate in designated areas. It does not limit public access to these areas or address potentially more pressing threats like light and noise pollution or ocean acidification. Thank NOAA and FWS for stepping up to protect these vulnerable populations and urge them to keep working to ensure that sea turtles will continue to exist long into the future.
Dear Dr. Sullivan and Mr. Ashe,
As climate change continues to acidify our oceans, overfishing continues to empty them, and chemical pollution continues to contaminate them, we must do everything in our power to protect what is left of our marine heritage. The recent critical habitat designation for loggerhead sea turtles is an important step in the right direction.
Leaders like you will make the difference between healthy, durable ecosystems and barren, toxic wastelands. Thank you for pushing for these important protections, and please continue working to conserve endangered species and ensure the health of our shared ocean resources.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Raeky via Wikimedia Commons