Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: The Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) is the only treaty devoted exclusively to sea turtles and aims to "promote the protection, conservation and recovery of sea turtle populations and of the habitats on which they depend, based on the best available scientific evidence, taking into account the environmental, socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the Parties." This treaty involves 21 nations, including the United Staes, in preserving sea turtles as an internationally shared resource (seaturtle.org 2003, C. Ryder, pers. comm.).
Critical Habitat has been designated at St. Croix, Virgin Islands; Santa Rosa N.P., Costa Rica; and sites in Mexico.
NMFS (Federal Register, 12 May 1995) established a leatherback conservation zone extending from Cape Canaveral to the Virginia-North Carolina border and including all inshore and offshore waters; this zone is subject to shrimping closures when high abundances of leatherbacks are documented. For example, on 20 December 2001, NOAA Fisheries issued a temporary rule that required shrimp trawlers operating in Atlantic waters from the shoreline out to 10 nautical miles between 28 degrees north latitude, approximately Melbourne, Florida and the Florida/ Georgia border, to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) with escape openings modified to exclude leatherback turtles. This emergency rule, effective through 14 January 2002, was based on a number of factors including the presence of an extraordinarily high number of leatherbacks stranded along northeast Florida beaches in November and early December. According to state authorities, 15 dead leatherbacks washed ashore from St. Johns through Brevard counties in shrimp zones 28 and 29 between November 4 and December 10, 2001 (NMFS 2000). TED programs have been initiated in several other countries as well.
Larger TEDs that are more effective in excluding larger hard-shelled and leatherback turtles are now required in certain areas during specified times. Use of TEDs with openings large enough to accommodate leatherbacks is required of U.S. shrimp trawlers in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
In 1989, a law was passed (Section 609 of U.S. Public Law 101-162) prohibiting U.S. importation of shrimp harvested in ways that are harmful to sea turtles; only nations certified by the Department of State as having a sea turtle protection program similar to that in the United States (i.e., requiring and enforcing TED use) may avoid this trade embargo. Time length of individual shrimp trawls is also limited to reduce drowning risk to trapped sea turtles, and fisheries observers are required on a certain percentage of U.S. vessels fishing the North Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico.
Nest beaches are protected in most parts of the species' range, but outside of U.S. jurisdiction law enforcement is often insufficient (Showalter 2003).
Needs: Protection needs include the following: protect all existing occurrences (increase survival of eggs and hatchlings); reduce adult mortality, such as by reducing incidental catch (mandatory use of TEDs, elimination of drift nets); restrict dumping of plastics and other debris and pollutants.
See also recovery plans and Spotila et al. (1996).