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For Immediate Release, November 15, 2011

Contacts:   Ben Enticknap, Oceana, (503) 235-0278,
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308,
Todd Steiner or Chris Pincetich, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 663-8590 x 103, 102,; photos and B-roll available

Endangered Sea Turtles Threatened by Delay in Federal Help

Pacific Leatherbacks' Habitat Off West Coast Remains Unprotected

SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government missed a court-ordered deadline today to protect habitat for endangered leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. Instead of publishing its final rule to protect the turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service sought a delay from federal court, leaving the increasingly rare leatherbacks vulnerable to threats from fishing, new coastal development, offshore energy and aquaculture. 

“With only a few thousand Pacific leatherbacks remaining, time is of the essence,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Pacific senior director. “Every wasted minute puts these magnificent creatures closer to extinction on our watch.”

“Delay is a recipe for extinction,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). “Critically endangered leatherbacks swim thousands of miles across the Pacific from their nesting grounds in Indonesia to the coast of California to feed. Without a safe haven to replenish their energy, these 100 million year old giants will go extinct on our watch."

Oceana, TIRN and the Center for Biological Diversity have asked the court to deny this latest attempt by the Fisheries Service to delay protections for the ancient turtles. The request comes after years of repeatedly missed deadlines, lawsuits and a settlement agreement that already gave the Fisheries Service nearly an additional year (until Nov. 15, 2011) to finalize overdue critical habitat protections for the imperiled animals.

“Leatherbacks have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but without habitat protection they could wink out in our lifetime,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “There’s no excuse for delay.”

In order to survive, leatherbacks need safe passage from nesting beaches 6,000 miles away in remote Indonesia to feeding hotspots in Pacific Ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Protection of the key migratory corridors and feeding areas in these waters were elements of the critical habitat designation. Once established, habitat protection could limit activities that harm the leatherbacks’ main prey, jellyfish, or impede their migratory path. 

The largest of all sea turtles, leatherbacks can grow to be up to nine feet long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds. Pacific leatherback sea turtles have declined more than 95 percent since the 1980s; as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain.  The species has survived for 100 million years virtually unchanged; now it risks disappearing.


Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world's oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 500,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 35,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit

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