Up until the 1970s, the Turtle Kraal in Key West was still cranking out cans of turtle soup even as Florida’s population quietly disappeared.
But on Tuesday, wildlife managers declared victory in conservation efforts in Florida and Mexico that included bans on harvesting and preservation of beaches. Turtles in the two regions will come off the endangered species list and be down listed to threatened. The move revamps management plans into 11 distinct populations designed to tailor conservation efforts to specific threats to the different groups.
Of the 11 populations, only three will be classified as endangered with the rest listed as threatened.
As part of the plan, Florida and Mexico will be used as models — “a road map for further recovery strategies of green turtle populations around the world," said Eileen Sobeck, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries, in a statement.
While considered the recovery is considered a success, NOAA officials also said the turtles, which can grow to 350 pounds and swim in warm waters from Australia to North America, still face many perils. Among them: fishing nets, loss of habitat, climate change, harvesting that includes eggs and a gruesome disease that causes tumors to sprout from their skin and linked to pollution.
Conservationists applauded the success, but said any celebration needs to include “redoubling our efforts to protect our nesting sea turtles,” said Jacki Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Florida's coasts are ground zero for sea-level rise,” she said in an email “and the country is looking for us to carefully plan and manage for rising seas and our nesting sea turtles.”
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