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Friday, May 27, 2022

The “Endangered” label will help protect leatherback turtles, but will not save their declining population.

MONTEREY – Recent legislation declares leatherback sea turtles “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act – the result of a vote by the California Fish and Game Commission last month.

But while it adds another layer of safety to these aquatic reptiles, it won’t fully revive their numbers, said Scott Benson, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries in Monterey.

“The safest place in the Pacific for a leather back is probably the west coast of the United States,” he said, insisting that their populations need more than US laws to save them.

The legislation is combining with existing federal laws to provide additional protection and awareness of this endangered species, said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Recovery Network. In particular, he said it helps to advocate for better monitoring of state fisheries.

According to a 2020 study by Benson, the number of leathery skin in California has declined by an average of 5.6% over the past 28 years. Pacific.

“I’m not very happy to put another dot on the figure showing that (population) is still declining,” Benson said. “This is not good”.

The leather skins of the Western Pacific migrate 5,000 to 6,000 miles each summer from their nesting sites in Southeast Asia to the cool coastal waters of California. According to Steiner, Monterey Bay is a “hot spot” for the state’s official marine reptiles. Here they feast on jellyfish, which help them grow from the size of a cookie to two-ton creatures 9 feet long, he said.

But their giant fins could wrap around commercial fishing gear, Steiner said. The extra weight can drown them if they become entangled – a fate rarely reported in California, Benson said.

Fisheries watchers mitigate these threats in the state by monitoring what is caught and dumped on boats and recording interactions with marine life. But Steiner said this coverage could be underreported, not only in California, but around the world.

“Many animals die if they are watched,” he said. “I mean, it’s just the nature of a giant ocean.”

The new decision will put pressure on California to ensure observer coverage in government regulated fisheries, said Steiner, whose organization has teamed up with the Center for Biological Diversity to expedite the law and file a petition.

Strengthening government monitoring never hurts, Benson said, especially given future aquaculture and wind power projects in coastal waters. But the most damaging impacts remain outside the United States, where observers account for less than 20% of Pacific fisheries. Destruction of nests and poaching also leads to the loss of the leatherback population, he said.

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