The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last Friday designated nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback turtle.
The protected area is the first permanent safe haven in the waters of the continental United States for endangered leatherbacks, which swim across the Pacific every year to eat jellyfish outside the Golden Gate.
The ruling covers 16,910 square miles along California’s coast from Point Arena (Mendocino County) to Point Arguello (Santa Barbara County) to a depth of 9,000 feet. The remaining turtle habitat stretches from Cape Flattery, Washington, to Cape Blanco, Oregon, seaward to a depth of a little more than 6,500 feet.
Regulations To Restrict Projects That Harm Turtles
The regulations will restrict projects that harm the turtles or the gelatinous delicacies they devour. The government will be required to review and, if necessary, regulate agricultural waste, pollution, oil spills, power plants, oil drilling, storm-water runoff and liquid natural gas projects along the California coast between Santa Barbara and Mendocino counties and off the Oregon and Washington coasts.
The regulations are a response to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in 2009 by the nonprofit environmental groups Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oceana.
However, this area does not include the migration routes the turtles take to get to the feeding grounds. That means 28,686 square miles of habitat originally proposed for the designation was left unprotected.
An Amazing Migration
Pacific leatherbacks leave their nesting grounds in Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea and swim an amazing 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to forage along the West Coast in the summer and fall. It is the longest known migration of any marine reptile.
Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles in the world, sometimes measuring 9 feet long and weighing as much as three refrigerators, or more than 1,200 pounds. Their life span is not fully known, but they are believed to live at least 40 years and possibly as long as 100 years.
The worldwide population has declined by 95 percent since the 1980s because of commercial fishing, egg poaching, destruction of nesting habitat, degradation of foraging habitat and changing ocean conditions. Listed as endangered since 1970 under the Endangered Species Act, there are believed to be only 2,000 to 5,700 nesting females left in the world.
Turtle Protection And No More Shark Finning
As Care2 reported here, shark finning has been banned in California, Washington and Oregon. Now, with this protection for Pacific leatherback turtles, the chances of marine life surviving off the West Coast of the U.S. are looking better.
Photo Credit: Green Massachusetts via flickr