On January 8, 2013, three conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The lawsuit claims that those agencies failed to protect critical habitat where Loggerhead sea turtles nest and forage for food.
The government has been required to protect certain habitats since Sept. 22, 2011, when the Endangered Species Act designated all Loggerhead sea turtles as protected species. When nine separate populations were identified, the U.S. government faced a deadline for designating certain areas as critical habitats. The lawsuit centers on the government's failure to meet an established deadline.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Oceana joined forces to bring the lawsuit. A Jan. 8 press release by the Center for Biological Diversity explained the situation,
"Critical habitat protection would help safeguard marine and terrestrial areas essential for migrating, feeding and nesting. The designation would ensure that federally permitted activities do not continue to drive these species to the brink of extinction by destroying these important areas."
A Jan. 8 Oceana press release included a statement by campaign director Beth Lowell. She said, “The Endangered Species Act is a safety net for imperiled species like Loggerhead sea turtles, but the federal government has failed in its duty to protect the areas these sea turtles call home. The longer the government delays in designating and protecting critical habitat, the more turtles will continue be caught in fishing nets and have their nesting beaches destroyed. Only by protecting the regions vital to their survival can these populations recover.”
The Northwest Atlantic population are in the threatened category and the North Pacific population is in the endangered category.
Florida hosts the largest Loggerhead nesting population in the United States. Those turtles are in the threatened category because of fishing, climate change and coastal development. East Coast sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average and this threatens more of the region's turtle nesting areas.
The North Pacific population travels back and forth across the Pacific Ocean to nest at the coast of Japan and to feed along the coasts of Southern California and Mexico. An estimated 1,000 Pacific area Loggerheads die each year because of gill net fishing in Mexico. More than 400 dead turtles washed ashore last summer. Overall, that population decreased by at least 80 percent over the past ten years, triggering an upgrade to the endangered category.
Since the world's beaches are being threatened by rising sea levels and coastal development. The government might designate certain beaches as protected areas. The other major threat comes from gill nets and long fishing lines for catching swordfish and tuna. The government might declare turtle foraging areas off limits to those fishing methods. The lawsuit will hopefully get the government to take action.