GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — On June 14th the US House of Representatives passed the Marine Turtle Conservation Act (H.R.3378) sponsored by Wayne Gilchrest (D-MA). The bi-partisan bill authorizes $5 million a year for international conservation projects protecting nesting sea turtles and their habitats. The Senate version of the bill passed in October of 2003. The House bill had strong support from Florida’s congressional delegation, with 9 of the 43 co-sponsors being from Florida. The legislation now awaits the Bush Administration’s approval.
The Gainesville-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation has worked for over a year to ensure the passage of of the MTCA. According to CCC’s Policy Coordinator, Gary Appelson, who has submitted written comments to both House and Senate committees working on the bill, “We are grateful for all the support from Florida’s Congressional Delegation. Over 20% of the cosponsors are from Florida. It is only fitting, given how popular sea turtles are in Florida, that our congressional delegation would also support their conservation and protection.” According to David Godfrey, CCC’s Executive Director, “Floridians enthusiastically support the state’s Marine Turtle Protection Program through their voluntary purchase of the Sea Turtle License Plate, one of the most popular specialty plates in Florida.”
Sea turtles live a very long time, migrate and forage throughout the waters of many nations, and nest on sandy shores around the world. Exploitation in one nation can threaten sea turtle populations in other nations. The need for international protection is necessary and urgent. Six of the world’s seven sea turtle species are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Three of these species nest in significant numbers on Florida’s beaches. This legislation will help ensure that after sea turtles leave Florida’s waters they will be better protected as they travel through the waters of other nations.
According to Marydele Donnelly, a sea turtle biologist with The Ocean Conservancy who testified before Congress in April in support of the legislation, “From Africa to Asia to Latin America, dedicated biologists and community activists are working under difficult and dangerous conditions to save sea turtles from extinction. Tonight, on beaches around the world, poachers armed with machetes will butcher turtles coming ashore to nest. Some of these animals will be 30-40 year old animals nesting for the very first time. By supporting international conservation efforts the bill will help curtail the illegal trade in sea turtle shell, meat and eggs” she said.
The Marine Turtle Conservation Act allocates 5 million dollars annually through 2008 for long-term research and protection of nesting populations. It sends a strong message that the United States is a leader in the global effort to protect these magnificent animals from extinction.