Endangered Green Sea Turtles Could Lose Legal Protections
The green sea turtle is one of the most recognizable yet vulnerable species on Earth. They were hunted for centuries for human consumption until being listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. In fact, it is estimated that their population has declined worldwide by at least 37 percent, and possibly as high as 70 percent, during the last 140 years. The continued recovery and survival of these creatures is still in jeopardy, as the National Marine Fisheries Service has recently been petitioned by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs to remove the Hawaiian green sea turtle population from the list of threatened and endangered species.
The petition argues that the green sea turtle population that makes its home in Hawaiian waters has recovered to the point of no longer needing protection. However, this is simply not the case. With the number of nesting females at less than 10 percent of what would be required for delisting, populations will struggle to survive when local people begin hunting the turtles for their eggs and meat. This population also suffers from widespread fibropapillomatosis, a skin disease that causes tumors and even death.
Scientists still don’t know why outbreaks occur and the disease remains one of the largest threats to green turtle survival in Hawaii. Green sea turtles are also victims of bycatch, or accidental catch, when they become trapped in fishing gear. Turtles can swallow fishing hooks, develop infections from wounds, or even drown if held underwater. With small populations and persistent threats, including polluted habitats, green sea turtle populations are still fragile.
Additionally, in order for a species to meet the criteria for delisting, a management plan must be in place that would work to maintain a stable population of turtles in the area. Currently, however, there is no federal or state management plan even proposed. Even if a plan was ready to go, it would require an unrealistic level of monitoring and enforcement just to ensure that the sea turtle population remained at fixed levels.
Oceana is working to protect green sea turtle populations from suffering further by urging the government to keep them listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It is clear that the Hawaiian green sea turtle population still needs our protection. Sea turtles have been swimming in our oceans for millions of years, surviving mass extinctions and natural predators, however they may have met their match in humans. It’s critical that these turtles remain protected so they can swim in our oceans for the next million years to come.
About The Author:
Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. To learn more – please visit Oceana’s work with sea turtles.
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