In a March 8, 2011, letter to National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SRTP and its members are asking for support of critical habitat designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the Kempís ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) in the U.S. portion of its range. This sea turtle would greatly benefit from protection of both its marine and terrestrial habitats. Click here to download a copy of the letter.
Our organization has been working to protect this sea turtle species for since 1982 when Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles was organized. Our members and staff actively participate in Kempís protection efforts, both in terms of policy and on-the-ground actions. We supported nest patrols at Rancho Nuevo Mexico and on the Texas coast as well while conducting educational programs to build public awareness. Our public information line for reporting nesting sea turtles has been used by hundreds of people on the Texas coast who called 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report the sighting of a Kempís ridley or hatchlings.
We have reviewed the petition submitted on February 17, 2010 by WildEarth Guardians, and we fully support this petition. We are aware that neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a decision on this petition. Indeed, WildEarth Guardians subsequently sued your agencies on August 30, 2010 due to your failure to respond.
More than a year has passed since this formal request for critical habitat. That was a dramatic year for the Kempís ridley sea turtle. As you know, almost 500 perished due to the devastation caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and scientists warned that this disaster might setback this speciesí recovery for a long time. The body count does not tell the whole story: many other Kempís ridleys likely perished but were never found. Moreover, contamination of the Kempís ridleyís marine and coastal habitat will likely be long-lasting, and we are concerned about future population trends resulting from this event.
Had a critical habitat designation been in place, British Petroleum and the other corporations responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster would have faced more stringent regulation of their drilling activities under the ESA. But itís not too late. Critical habitat for the Kempís ridley could address future off-shore drilling proposals, as well as ongoing drilling operations.
A prompt critical habitat proposal is vital to get the process started and map out a new course for Kempís ridley sea turtle recovery. Recovery and critical habitat are fundamentally intertwined, as critical habitat should extend to unoccupied, suitable areas within the speciesí range, to which it can be restored (or restore itself). Most importantly however, is the ESAís provision that, once designation, critical habitat cannot be adversely modified. This provides a much more stringent protection that simple prevention of ďjeopardyĒ to the full species. We requested critical habitat for the Kempís ridleys on the Texas coast when the first comments for the new Recovery Plan were requested and are asking again with increased consideration needed following the oil spill.
The Kempís ridley deserves, and must receive, the enhanced ESA protections that critical habitat would provide. We therefore urge a prompt proposal of critical habitat for this species, in its suitable marine and terrestrial habitats.