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For Immediate Release, September 13, 2012

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Rare Turtle in Florida, Georgia and Alabama

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agency’s failure to decide whether an increasingly rare animal, the Barbour’s map turtle, should receive Endangered Species Act protection. The turtle is declining due to illegal collection, pollution, dredging and disease.

Ringed seal
Barbour's map turtle photo courtesy USGS. Photo available for media use.

“Barbour’s map turtles are disappearing fast, and in some areas they’ve already vanished. They desperately need Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said the Center’s reptile-and-amphibian specialist, Collette Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping species from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving these rare turtles.”

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Barbour’s map turtle in 2010. In 2011 the Service determined that the turtle “may warrant” protection as an endangered species, but it has failed to take the next required step, a 12-month finding on whether protection is warranted.

Many of the 20 remaining populations of the turtle are experiencing substantial declines from habitat loss and degradation. Industrial water pollution is causing extensive deformities and shell ulcerations in the turtles and killing many of the mollusks they eat. 

Also, these beautiful turtles, known for their spiked shells and intricate patterns of yellow markings, suffer from overcollection for the pet trade, despite the fact that collection is illegal across their range. Even limited collection of turtles is unsustainable because of the key role played by large adult female turtles, which can take more than 15 years to reach sexual maturity.

“Turtle traders continue to deplete populations of Barbour’s map turtles and other U.S. turtles at a frightening rate. It’s got to stop before we lose these incredible animals from the wild,” said Adkins Giese. “Overcollection compounds the daily problems our turtles already face from habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”

Background
The Barbour’s map turtle is one of the rarest map turtles, found only in the Apalachicola River system and nearby waterways of Florida, Georgia and Alabama in the southeastern United States. It usually lives in wide streams with swift currents and abundant downed trees, often in areas exposed to limestone. It eats mainly mollusks and insects like caddisfly larvae and can only survive in waters clean enough to support its prey base.

The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. As part a campaign to protect this rich natural heritage, the Center in 2008 and 2009 petitioned states with unrestricted commercial turtle harvest to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. Earlier this year Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial harvest of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial harvests.

The Center is also working to end unsustainable international trade in U.S. freshwater turtles, including Barbour’s map turtles. In response to a Center petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced in April of this year that it may propose 17 U.S. freshwater species for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, visit http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/herps.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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