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UN Calls for Closures to Protect Sea Turtles

UN Calls for Closures to Protect Sea Turtles

While a Good First Step, Scientists Say a Moratorium is Needed


Forest Knolls, California – Today, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a resolution that calls for closures of fishing in areas where large numbers of critically endangered sea turtles are caught or killed. The critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle is on the verge of extinction and is expected by scientists to go extinct in the next 5-30 years unless immediate measures to eliminate threats posed by industrial longline fishing are taken. Environmentalists are pleased at this first step but warn that a moratorium on destructive longline fishing is needed in the Pacific if the leatherback is to survive.

“We are pleased that the UN finally moving closer to the worldwide consensus that something urgently needs to be done to prevent the extinction of the leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific,” said Robert Ovetz, Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator of the US based Sea Turtle Restoration Project which is leading the advocacy effort by a coalition of international environmental organizations.

Last June a parade of schoolchildren dressed in sea turtle costumes delivered a petition to the UN signed by thousands of citizens, 1,007 scientists from 97 countries and 281 non-governmental organizations from 64 countries urging it to implement a moratorium on high seas industrial longline fishing in the Pacific. The list of signers includes famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and former U.S. astronaut Bernard Harris, Jr. M.D.

According the recent reports in the scientific journal Nature, the 100 million year old leatherback sea turtle is on the brink of extinction. The population of female nesting leatherbacks has declined by about 95% since 1980.

Dr. James Spotila, a co-author of one of the reports, signed the petition to the UN and testified before the UN this past June. "The descent of the leatherback toward extinction is a global ecological tragedy that affects us all. As goes the leatherback, so goes the ocean," warned Dr. Spotila. Dr. Spotila is the President of the International Sea Turtle Society, President of The Leatherback Trust, and Betz Chair of Environmental Science at Drexel University.

The language endorsing a set of guidelines recently drafted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization originated at the June meeting of the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea. On the first day of the meeting, The meeting directed all nations that have signed the convention and regional fisheries management organizations to urgently implement the closures and other measures outlined in recent UN FAO guidelines for reducing interactions with sea turtles. Similar language calling for time and area closures to reduce the bycatch (the unwanted capture and killing of ocean wildlife) of industrial fishing also appears in the same section of the resolution. These 2 recommendations are included in the resolution that will be voted on by the UN General Assembly today.

"While proposing time and area closures is a good first step the UN has a long way to go to heed the call of the scientific community to implement a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific. A moratorium would give us the time to put proven conservation measures into place to keep the leatherback from dropping off into oblivion forever," Ovetz added.

Resources:

* For a copy of the UN draft fisheries resolution go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/pdf/_finalfishresol.11_10_05.pdf

* For a copy of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's new book Striplining the Pacific on the impact of longline fishing on the Pacific leatherback go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=259

* For a copy of the scientist and NGO letters to the UN calling for a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=261

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