Green Turtles May Lose Protection in Hawai`i if Pending Petition is Granted

posted in: Fisheries, Marine, September 2012 | 0

The National Marine Fisheries Service says that a petition to delist the Hawai`i population of green sea turtles – removing its status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – “may be warranted.”

“We find that the petition viewed in the context of information readily available in our files presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” the service stated in a notice published in the Federal Register of August 1.
The public now has until October 1 to submit comments on the proposed delisting.

The petition was submitted to NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last February by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, which had been spurred to act by Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac). Simonds and several council members – notably those from Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands – had been griping for years about the restrictions on the take of turtles, whose killing and eating, they say, represents an important cultural tradition.

In June 2011, Wespac voted to support efforts to remove the Hawai`i turtles from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. This year, the IUCN accepted an assessment of its Marine Turtles Specialist Group, which concluded that the Hawaiian subpopulation of green sea turtles should be considered a species of least concern. The Red List identifies the global green sea turtle population as endangered.

More than 90 percent of green sea turtle nesting occurs at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, mostly at East Island. Although recent modeling by local scientists suggest that Disappearing, Shark, East and Gin islets, which are roughly two meters high, would all but disappear if sea level rises two meters by 2100, the IUCN projected that East Island would lose only 15 percent of its area with “an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-projected 48 cm increase in sea level, and up to 26 percent of its area under the extreme predictions of 88 cm rise in sea level. These predictions are based on IPCC suggested rises up to 2100 (Church et al. 2001),” according to the organization’s website.

The NMFS is seeking information on “whether green turtles should be listed as DPSs [distinct population species], including the identification of the Hawaiian population of the green turtle as a DPS, and, if so, whether they should be classified as endangered or threatened, or delisted.”

Comments on the petition may be submitted electronically to The docket number for the petition is NOAA-NMFS-2012-0154. They can also be mailed or hand-delivered to: Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

— Patricia Tummons & Teresa Dawson

Volume 23, Number 3 September 2012