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Victory in California for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle

Rick and Juan from Gumbo Limbo digging a chamber for KATE, a Florida leatherback. She has physical and neurological injuries that prevent her from being able to dig a chamber for her eggs, so volunteers helped.
Rick and Juan from Gumbo Limbo digging a chamber for KATE, a Florida leatherback. She has physical and neurological injuries that prevent her from being able to dig a chamber for her eggs, so volunteers helped.
Staci-lee Sherwood

Along with approving driver-less cars, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law that establishes the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the state marine reptile and designates October 15 as Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day.

The bill, sponsored by Seaturtles.org and introduced by Assembly member Paul Fong, will enhance public awareness of the giant Pacific leatherback who swims 6,000 miles across the Pacific to feed on abundant jellyfish in California's waters. The bill highlights Seaturtles.org hopes to enact stricter limits on longline and gillnet fishing that result in injury and death to sea turtles and other marine wildlife, and to end the drift gillnet fishery entirely.

According to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project announcement letter, Assembly member Fong said,

"This bill demonstrates California’s commitment to protecting our ocean’s ecosystem and a species whose population has declined more than 95 percent and whose migratory pattern includes California's coast."

Despite California's conservation efforts, leatherbacks are on the brink of extinction. All sea turtles in US waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

California is a leader in ocean conservation legislation, and the California coast is one of the most important feeding areas in the world for the leatherback turtle; 16,910 square miles of the state's waters are designated as critical habitat for them under the Endangered Species Act.

From the press release: “California has now established itself as a national leader in promoting conservation of Pacific leatherbacks, which have survived in the Pacific Ocean for over 100 million years but are now being driven to extinction by fisheries bycatch, poaching, and plastic pollution,” said Dr. Chris Pincetich, marine biologist with SeaTurtles.org, the primary architect and sponsor of AB 1776.

California's latest action underscores the importance of stalwart lobbying by conservationists. Connecticut declared the sperm whale its state animal in 1975. Hawaii approved the Hawaiian monk seal the state its state mammal in 2008. Massachusetts declared the Right Whale its state marine mammal or marine animal emblem in 1980. The Right Whale is also South Carolina's migratory marine mammal, designated in 2009.

Turtle Island Restoration Network’s (SeaTurtles.org) mission is to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide in ways that incorporate the ecological needs of marine species and the economic needs of local communities, both of which share our common marine environment.

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