Protection sought for leatherback turtles

Posted: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Portland, Ore. - The leatherback turtle - at 1,200 pounds the world's heaviest reptile - is in such severe decline that it could become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within a few decades, according to Oceana, a global environmental group seeking emergency protection for it and the other five species of sea turtles.

Of particular concern is the plight of the leatherback, which grows to a length of five feet and migrates about 6,000 miles each year from beaches in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands to the coastal waters of California and Oregon to feed on jellyfish.

"We are pushing Congress to enact comprehensive sea turtle legislation as soon as possible," said Elizabeth Griffin, Oceana's marine wildlife scientist and fisheries campaign manager, based in Washington. "One big problem is residential and commercial development of its nesting beaches. Another is that leatherbacks are getting caught in commercial fishing gear: nets, hooks and fishing line."

Oceana and other groups have already petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate certain stretches of ocean from Point Conception, Calif., north to Lincoln City, Ore., as critical migratory and foraging habitat for leatherbacks.

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