Turtles No Longer ‘Endangered,’ Now Only ‘Threatened,’ Thanks to Endangered Species Act

The success of green sea turtles’ recovery on the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts warrants downgrading their status from “endangered” to “threatened,” according to today’s announcement by National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in response to a petition from the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. But the agencies emphasized that the growing threat of climate change and sea-level rise — particularly on low-lying nesting beaches in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands — and other threats mean that sea turtles remain threatened and still need the Act’s protections.

Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, Jeff Seminoff, NOAA
Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, Jeff Seminoff, NOAA

“The undeniable recovery of most green sea turtle populations creates a hopeful spot in our changing oceans,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sea turtles capture our imaginations, improbably crossing oceans for most of their lives before loyally coming ashore to build nests on the beach. The knowledge that green sea turtles can overcome illegal harvest, plastic pollution and warming waters testifies to their resilience.”

Today’s final rule resulted from a global review of the green sea turtle’s conservation status that found that the sea turtle should be classified into 11 distinct population segments. Although some sea turtle populations are improving significantly due to the protections of the Endangered Species Act, several populations in other parts of the world, which do not benefit from the protections of the Act, continue to struggle. The Mediterranean, South Pacific and western Pacific populations remain in danger of extinction and will remain listed as “endangered.”

“Sea turtles face a lot of threats, from plastic trash they swallow to sea-level rise to getting caught in fishing gear — even poaching, in some parts of the world,” said Kilduff. “This success story shows that the Endangered Species Act works and is an essential safety net for endangered wildlife.’”