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Conservationists call for areas to protect green turtles

Four conservation groups are calling on the federal government to designate certain areas in American Samoa to be protected for the green sea turtle population, which they say is declining throughout U.S. coastal waters.

The request was made in an Oct. 1 letter to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Protected Resources when the group submitted comments opposing a federal proposal to delist Hawai’i green sea turtles from being protected under federal laws.

The comments were submitted on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Humane Society of the United States, Earthjustice, “and our millions of members, including more than 50,000 in Hawai’i”, according to the letter.

The letter states that the groups believe that all current and historic areas utilized by green sea turtles meet the criteria for designation as critical habitat and must therefore be designated as such.

In addition, currently unoccupied areas that are essential for the survival and recovery of the green sea turtle should be designated, including areas that will become important under climate change.

“We support critical habitat designation for all populations that occur in US waters,” the letter says.

It also says that green sea turtles are documented as nesting, foraging, and following consistent migrations from American Samoa. Primary nesting beaches are located on Rose Atoll, Tutuila Island, and Swains Islands.

From 1971 through the mid 1990s, 42 individual nesting green turtles have been flipper tagged on Rose Atoll during infrequent monitoring trips. Sub-adult and adult green turtles have been found swimming in near shore waters around Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, Ta`u and Swains islands.

“A consistent migration pathway exists for green sea turtles swimming from American Samoa to abundant sea grass habitat in the islands of Fiji, documented by satellite tracking,” the letter states and cites the sources of its information and the year.

The letter said the following areas warrant designation as critical habitat in American Samoa for the green sea turtle, based on documented evidence that they are essential to the continued survival and recovery of the species:

•         Sandy nesting beaches on the Rose Atoll, Tutuila Island, and Swains Islands beaches, as well on Tutuila Island;

•         foraging and potential breeding grounds in offshore waters 0-50 miles around Tutuila, Ofu, Olosega, Ta`u and Swains Islands; and

•         the migratory corridor connecting American Samoa with Fiji, as identified by satellite tracking of post-nesting green sea turtles.

The groups also states that from April 2006 to 2009, observers with the American Samoa longline fishery reported eight green sea turtle interactions. In 2010, there were six interactions with green sea turtles; five resulted in mortality and one was released injured. (The groups cited a 2011 report by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, or WPRFMC, as the source of this information.)

Complete details of the groups’ comments are found on the federal government portal: