U.S. Ocean Commission Report Ignores Sea Turtles

Date: June 1, 2004
Contact: Gary Appelson
Phone: (325) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — The recently released Preliminary Report of the US Commission on Ocean Policy failed to adequately address the conservation needs of threatened and endangered sea turtles. Sea turtle scientists and conservation groups are flabbergasted that the 400-page report ignores sea turtles and the threats to their survival. The report is open for public comment by the nation’s Governors and interested stakeholders until June 4, 2004. After reviewing public comments the Commission will submit its final findings and recommendations for a new, coordinated, and comprehensive national ocean policy to the President and Congress in mid-summer.

The Gainesville-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC) is highlighting the report’s shortcomings. According to Gary Appelson, Advocacy Coordinator for CCC, “It is the responsibility of the Governors of the southeastern coastal states and the conservation community to ensure that the Commission’s final report fully addresses the conservation needs of sea turtles. This is especially important for Florida since the state has invested extensive resources to ensure that people and marine turtles can coexist and share our beaches.” According to CCC’s Director, David Godfrey, “sea turtles could be ignored into extinction if we rely on the preliminary report.”

Chapter 20, Protecting Marine Mammals and Endangered Species, is almost entirely devoted to marine mammals, with only a brief and inaccurate reference to sea turtles. The report states that “the threats to endangered marine species such as marine turtles… are myriad and not easily categorized” (page 252). In fact there is an extensive record on the threats to sea turtles, and much of it is easily available, clearly documented, and easily categorized. The state of Florida annually documents the number of sea turtle hatchlings disoriented due to beachfront lighting and provides detailed reports on the thousands of sea turtles killed each year and the cause. The Federal government’s National Research Council in 1990 published a thorough guide to threats to marine turtles. In addition, mortality in the open ocean from the commercial long line fishery, bottom-trawlers, and shrimping is well known and is bringing some sea turtle populations to the brink of extinction.

According to Appelson, “The Report ignores the pivotal role the states play in supporting the Endangered Species Act and protecting sea turtles. It fails to acknowledge the activities of the state of Florida and other southeastern coastal states in monitoring, managing, and protecting nesting beaches and educating the public about sea turtle conservation”. Appelson continued, “The preliminary report is a first step. It is essential that the final report reconsiders the importance of sea turtles, acknowledge the many threats to their survival, and describes the actions needed to ensure the recovery of sea turtle populations.” This is especially important for Florida where 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the U.S. occurs.

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The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website atwww.conserveturtles.org or call (800) 678-7853.