Lawsuit: Endangered green sea turtles are threatened in FL and elsewhere

Green sea turtle, by Mark Sullivan, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Acquired under NOAA permit 10137-07

Conservation groups have gone to court, saying federal agencies have failed to protect the habitat of treasured and endangered green sea turtles  – threatening their survival.

“Green sea turtles are protected 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,” according to the lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

A designated habitat for the turtles “would identify the most important areas for green sea turtles and provide a layer of protection preventing its destruction. The green sea turtle remains at risk until the services (federal agencies) fulfill their statutory duties to designate the critical habitat necessary to support the turtle’s survival and recovery.”

The lawsuit “seeks protections for green sea turtle nesting beaches that occur in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as offshore oceanic habitat in the Southeast and on the West Coast” according to a news release by the conservation groups.

The groups filing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, in Tucson, Arizona;  Sea Turtle Oversight Protection in Fort Lauderdale, and Turtle Island Restoration Network in Olema, California.

“It’s a shame that we’ve been forced into a lawsuit yet again,” Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said in a statement today.

“Green sea turtles have been around for over 65 million years, but now all green sea turtle populations are in danger of extinction. We have the power to protect them, but only if we use the full extent of our environmental laws to do so. We hope this lawsuit finally pushes the federal government to give these incredible creatures the protections they deserve so they can continue to survive for millions of years more.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are officials and various agencies: The secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior; principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the agency itself; secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce; assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

For those unfamiliar with the creatures, the lawsuit describes them this way:

“The adult green sea turtle…can migrate over 1,600 miles between their feeding grounds and nesting grounds. The green sea turtle is the only turtle that is strictly herbivorous as an adult, eating mostly seagrass and algae. It can weigh between 240 and 420 pounds. It spends most of its 80- to 100-year lifespan at sea and can usually be found at coastlines or bays with seagrass beds. Typically only the females come onshore, for nesting and breeding purposes, but male green sea turtles have been observed sunbathing on beaches in Hawaii. Green sea turtles face imminent danger every day from boats, human population expansion, plastic pollution, boat propeller strikes, and habitat loss.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.