Copyright National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of CommerceThe National Marine Fisheries Service, the US agency in charge of ocean species management, has announced that it will examine in detail whether waters off the California and Oregon coasts should be protected as critical habitat for the endangered leatherback turtle.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation charity, Leatherback turtles in the Pacific Ocean have declined by more than 90 percent over the past three decades, primarily as a result of drowning in industrial longline and gillnet fisheries aiming to catch swordfish, sharks and tunas.

The Fisheries Service’s finding, published in the Federal Register, comes in response to a formal petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration Network seeking a protected area of roughly 200,000 square miles. This comprises a food-rich upwelling region favoured by many marine species, including the leatherback.

In its finding, the Fisheries Service concludes that designating critical habitat for the leatherback off California and Oregon “may be warranted” and solicits public comment on the issue. The finding initiates a detailed review by the Service that must be completed by September, 2008.


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