Pacific Ocean (global-adventures.us): A new marine habitat in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington has been designated to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles. The 41,914 square miles area along the West Coast is the largest protected area ever established in American waters.
This designation will not directly affect recreational fishing, boating and other private activities in critical habitat, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says. Critical habitat designations only affect federalprojects that have the potential to adversely modify or destroy critical habitat. Critical habitat designations aid the recovery of endangered and threatened species by protecting habitat that the species rely on.
NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have already designated critical habitat for leatherback turtles along Sandy Point Beach at the western end of the island of St. Croix, U.S.V.I., and in adjacent Atlantic coastal waters. The new 41,914 square miles area in the Pacific Ocean has been designated as a result of a petition to revise the existing critical habitat for leatherbacks to include important habitat off the U.S. West Coast.
Leatherback sea turtles, the largest marine turtle in the world, have been listed as endangered since 1970. Leatherbacks have the largest range of any living reptile and occur throughout the oceans of the world. They feed primarily on jellyfish and lay their eggs on tropical and subtropical beaches. Adults grow to an average length of 6 to 7.2 feet (1.83 to 2.2 meters) and weigh 550 to 1,500 pounds (250 to 700 kilograms). The largest Leatherback turtle ever found was over 9.8 feet (3 meters) from head to tail and weighed 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms). They are unique among reptiles for their ability to maintain high body temperatures using metabolically generated heat. The species can be found in all tropical and subtropical oceans, and their range extends well into the Arctic Circle.
Although very little is known about their lifespan, biologists estimate leatherbacks can live for 45 years or more. Leatherbacks face many dangers both in the marine environment and on land, including bycatch in fishing gear, habitat destruction and the harvest of eggs and adults on nesting beaches.
The newly designated critical habitat is made up of two sections of marine habitat where leatherbacks are known to travel great distances across the Pacific to feed on jellyfish. The southern portion stretches along the California coast from Point Arena to Point Arguello east of the 3,000-meter depth contour, while the northern porion stretches from Cape Flattery, Wash. to Cape Blanco, Ore., east of the 2,000-meter depth contour.
A new 41,914 square miles area along the West Coast has been designated to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles. Photo: NOAA/Public Domain