Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act—our nation’s safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. On December 6, the www.endangered.org, which Sea Turtle Conservancy is a member of, marked the anniversary with a new report highlighting a few of the great wildlife conservation accomplishments since the Act’s passage in 1973. The report is entitled, Back from the Brink: Ten Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40, and it features the green sea turtle as one of its stories. All of the species in the report were nominated by Coalition member groups, such as STC. A panel of distinguished scientists then reviewed the nominations and decided which species to include in the report. STC Executive Director David Godfrey played a major role in the nomination and inclusion of the green turtle in the report.
The report highlights ten species that – thanks to the Endangered Species Act’s protections – are either steadily improving or have been recovered and removed from the list of imperiled species. Along with the green sea turtle, they include the nene goose, American peregrine falcon, El Segundo blue butterfly, Robbins’ cinquefoil, bald eagle, southern sea otter, humpback whale, American alligator, and brown pelican.
Below is some of the information about green turtles that was included in the report, written in part by Godfrey:
Safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act since 1978, green sea turtle populations along U.S. coasts are protected in the oceans by NOAA Fisheries and in their beach nesting habitats by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Many other countries have established laws to preserve these turtles, and the species is protected globally by both the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Indeed, the green sea turtle is one of the most defended species in the world.
Unintentional capture—particularly by the shrimp fishing industry—is one of the turtle’s most significant threats. Since 1992, NOAA has required all shrimp trawls in U.S. waters to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which greatly reduce the number of turtles ensnared in nets. The U.S. government also works with foreign governments to encourage the use of TEDs in trawl fisheries outside the U.S.
The USFWS recovery programs attempt to restore the turtle’s nesting grounds by limiting the impact of development, establishing federal refuges for turtles and reducing the impact of artificial light on nesting beaches. This last measure protects hatchlings, which can easily become disoriented by artificial lights when they emerge from their nests at night.
By listing this turtle under the Endangered Species Act, the United States took a bold stance, and the turtles are responding. In 1990, fewer than fifty green turtles were documented nesting at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. After twenty-three years of conservation efforts by STC, federal and local agencies, and other partner organizations, this 20-mile stretch of beach hosted over 13,000 green turtle nests in 2013—making this one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.
STC has been an active supporter and advocate for the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge since the idea was first conceived over 25 years ago. The organization played a significant role in establishing the refuge in 1989, and STC was a founding member of the Archie Carr Working Group, a coalition of public and private entities set up to expand, protect, manage and promote the Refuge. STC continues to help secure funds for land acquisition and management, and directly coordinates a number of habitat improvement programs in the Carr Refuge, including dune restoration projects, beach clean ups and a program that helps beachfront residents convert their lights to the latest turtle-friendly technology. STC’s annual migration tracking studies of turtles in the refuge are yielding important information about what these turtles do when they leave the Refuge, which helps direct conservation and recovery efforts.
The kind of growth that is being seen in the Carr Refuge is also taking place in other locations where green sea turtles are actively protected, which gives us good reason to be hopeful. Through collaborative efforts of organizations and governments—both here at home and throughout the world—there is bright promise that this remarkable species may make an equally remarkable comeback.
Click here to download a PDF version of the full report. The Endangered Species Coalition also produced a slide show to accompany the report, featuring stunning photos of each of the ten species in the report. The Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually. Previous years’ reports are available here. For more information on the Endangered Species Act, click here.