The battle to save Pacific leatherback turtles from extinction prompted federal biologists Tuesday to propose designating 70,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast as critical habitat for the giant reptiles.
The designation by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration would mark the first time critical habitat has ever been established in the open ocean for the endangered leatherbacks, which swim 6,000 miles every year to eat jellyfish outside the Golden Gate.
If approved, the regulations would restrict projects that harm the turtles or their food. The government would be required to review and, if necessary, regulate agricultural waste, pollution, oil spills, power plants, oil drilling, storm water runoff and liquid natural gas projects along the California coast between Long Beach and Mendocino County and off the Oregon and Washington coasts.
Environmentally friendly aquaculture, tidal, wave turbine and desalination projects also would come under scrutiny.
“This is a very positive step forward for the conservation of these ancient leatherback turtles,” said Ben Enticknap, the Pacific project manager for Oceana, an international nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. “The proposed designation is an important tool that will advance the conservation of leatherbacks when they are migrating and feeding. It’s a big step for the United States and a policy precedent for the world.”
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