‘It is the government’s responsibility to protect this essential habitat to ensure these marine turtles survive…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Three environmental groups sued five branches of the federal government for their failure to name the green sea turtle’s nesting areas as “critical habitats” deserving of special protections.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sea Turtle Oversight Protection and Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the federal government despite their admission that the green sea turtle population is growing, USA Today reported.
Plus, scientists at CBD published a 2019 study which found that 77 percent of marine mammals listed with the Endangered Species Act are recovering and that “no sea turtle populations decreased.”
The nesting locations of the North Atlantic green sea turtle rose from 62 in 1979 to 53,102 in 2017.
CBD reported that practical methods of protecting marine wildlife—including a “ban on killing turtles and harvesting eggs, protections for nesting beaches, and measures to reduce deaths in fishing gear”—were successful.
Despite the success of classic wildlife preservation, the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit are suing the federal government for failing to do enough about climate change.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Washington, D.C. District Court, claims that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, Services) ignored regulations of the Endangered Species Act.
The Services found in 2016 that three distinct population segment (DPS) of the green sea turtles are endangered while eight DPSs are threatened.
Despite increases in the population of green sea turtles, the Services said populations remain threatened or endangered because of climate change—specifically sea-level rise and ocean warming—among other issues.
“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, CBD reported in a press release.
“It is the government’s responsibility to protect this essential habitat to ensure these marine turtles survive,” Whitecloud said.
Yet the CBD’s own study rejects these fears, as the number of green sea turtle nests has grown rapidly during the past four decades.
The lawsuit says green sea turtles need protection under the Endangered Species Act “because they are threatened by habitat loss from coastal development, beach armoring and sea-level rise; disorientation of hatchlings by beachfront lighting; marine pollution; watercraft strikes; and as bycatch in fishing operations.”
The Endangered Species Act requires the Services to designate critical habitats for species that are threatened or endangered, but the 2016 report said, “Critical habitat is not determinable at this time but will be proposed in a future rulemaking.”
From the date of the “not determinable” finding, the Services had one year to propose a rule to name critical habitats, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s Notice of Intent to Sue.
“To date, the Services have not issued a final critical habitat determination for any of the 11 green sea turtle DPSs,” CBD said.
The three environmental groups sued Interior Department Secretary David Bernhard; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration; and the National Marine Fisheries Service.