WASHINGTON (CN) - Due to notable recovery under the Endangered Species Act, the federal listing agencies downlisted two populations of green sea turtles from endangered to threatened status Wednesday, they said. The final rule was jointly published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and it affirms the agencies' proposal last year to divide the sea turtles into 11 distinct population segments and to downlist the two recovering populations under the ESA.
The agencies said they used telemetry, tagging data, advanced genetic studies and information garnered from over 900 public comments in determining the green sea turtle's new global status classifications. "The reclassification into distinct population segments allows managers to take a more targeted approach to the specific threats facing different populations, while maintaining federal protections for all turtles," according to the agencies' announcement.
The breeding populations in Florida and the Pacific coast of Mexico have been downlisted from endangered status to threatened status due to successful conservation efforts. Populations in the Mediterranean, South Pacific and central western Pacific merit reclassification as endangered, while the remaining population segments have a threatened listing status.
The agencies had implemented a "range-wide" listing for all green sea turtles as a threatened species under the ESA in 1978, except for the Florida and Mexican coast breeding populations, which were designated as endangered.
"Successful conservation and management efforts developed in Florida and along the Pacific coast of Mexico are a roadmap for further recovery strategies of green turtle populations around the world," Eileen Sobeck, assistant NMFS administrator said.
The four-foot long green turtles, weighing up to 440 pounds, are "among the oldest creatures on earth that have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years," according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Green sea turtles are slow growing, with the longest age-to-maturity of any sea turtle species, from 35 to 50 years. Nests are constructed on coastal beaches, and are therefore threatened by sea level rise. They are also threatened by poachers , fishing gear entanglement, bycatch and plastic trash in the ocean.
The agencies attribute the recovering populations to protection of nesting beaches through such efforts as the establishment of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida that protects over 20 miles of beach nesting sites, technological improvements such as the turtle excluder device (TED) that has dramatically lowered bycatch, and new science discoveries that have helped to broaden the understanding of the life cycle of these imperiled animals.
"The undeniable recovery of most green sea turtle populations creates a hopeful spot in our changing oceans," Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity endangered species advocacy group, said. "Sea turtles capture our imaginations, improbably crossing oceans for most of their lives before loyally coming ashore to build nests on the beach. The knowledge that green sea turtles can overcome illegal harvest, plastic pollution and warming waters testifies to their resilience."
The final rule is effective May 6.
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