Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 13, 2018

Contact: Jason Totoiu, (561) 568-6740,

Lawsuit Launched Over Federal Failure to Protect Turtles in Louisiana, Mississippi

NEW ORLEANS— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect two species of map turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

The Pascagoula and Pearl River map turtles are found only in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Center and other groups petitioned to protect them in 2010, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to decide their status.  

“We could lose these ancient species to extinction if the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t act quickly to protect them,” said Jason Totoiu, a senior attorney at the Center. “Turtles are so important to the health of local rivers, and they really need our help. The Trump administration has a duty to save these animals.”

These turtles are threatened by habitat loss and degradation from dams, floodplain clearing and river channelization. A proposed dam in Rankin and Hinds counties, Mississippi threatens the Pearl River map turtle because it would transform the natural river ecosystem into a large lake. The dam would destroy important habitats and possibly drive the species extinct in the area.

Map turtles serve as indicators of river health since they are sensitive to poor water quality, which can devastate their populations. Other threats include harvest of turtles for sale in Asian food and medicinal markets and collection for the pet trade.

At the time of the petition, the Pearl River and Pascagoula River populations of the Pascagoula map turtle were considered to be a single species, but a scientific study determined the two populations are distinct.

The Fish and Wildlife Service should have issued the decision in 2011. At least 46 species of plants and animals having gone extinct waiting for protection since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. 

“Protecting and recovering these turtles under the Endangered Species Act will save them from extinction and help preserve two rivers tied to this region’s rich culture and heritage,” Totoiu said.

Map turtles are often called “sawbacks” for ridges along their backs that can form small spikes. Pearl River map turtles can live up to 30 years in the wild.

Pascagoula map turtle

Pascagoula map turtle photo by Grover Brown. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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