When it comes to protecting species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the responsibility is fairly clear-cut: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) primarily manages species found on land while the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, or NOAA Fisheries) manages marine species. However, the line blurs when it comes to protecting species that split their time between land and sea.
Consider the sea turtle: Six of the seven sea turtle species worldwide are listed under the ESA as threatened or endangered, with all of those species found in U.S. waters. Because sea turtles live in the marine environment but nest on shore, FWS and NOAA Fisheries jointly manage and protect them, using both internal and external research to develop conservation and recovery actions for each species. Further, the two agencies work together to designate critical habitat areas and develop ESA Recovery Plans to guide conservation and recovery. Each agency also has a designated sea turtle coordinator to help implement recovery and conservation efforts both nationally and internationally.
?One of the key areas of work [within the] National Marine Fisheries Service focuses on understanding and reducing the bycatch of turtles in commercial fishing activities,? says Barbara Schroeder, National Sea Turtle Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. Biologists working in NOAA Fisheries Science Centers and Regions in both the Atlantic and Pacific focus on gathering information on sea turtle populations, their life history and ecology, the threats they face in the marine environment, and solutions for reducing those threats. Chief among these efforts has been the development and implementation of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) ? special devices that allow a sea turtle to escape from a fishing net. (Read about the success of TED devices in ?A Sea Change for Survival? by William Robert Irvin, The Wildlife Professional, Spring 2013.)
International Management Efforts
FWS and NOAA Fisheries collaborate closely to implement conservation actions and recovery activities to protect and recover these vulnerable species, both in the United States and internationally. For example, the two agencies recently worked with the Mexican government to develop the 2011 Bi-National Recovery Plan for Kemp?s ridley sea turtles. Today, both NOAA Fisheries and FWS monitor the threats facing the species and implement management measures, such as providing assistance on nesting beaches in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico (where the majority of Kemp?s ridley nesting occurs) and monitoring threats from fisheries near nesting beaches. ?We are all working toward the same recovery goals for these imperiled species,? Schroeder says. ?We work very closely together to try to maximize the potential for recovery.?
On an even broader international scale, there are several different treaties and agreements between the United States and other countries to conserve and protect sea turtles. For example, the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles?an intergovernmental treaty that helps inform turtle conservation?provides protection for six species of sea turtle in the Americas and the Caribbean. To date, 15 nations have signed on to the Convention. ?One of the things about turtles is that they do not recognize international boundaries, they migrate long-distances, and may spend different parts of their life in habitats under the jurisdiction of many countries over their lifetimes,? Schroeder says. ?It takes a collaborative and concerted effort to recover and conserve these species, both here in the United States and beyond our borders as well.?
Author Bio: Kristen Kortick is the Editorial Intern for The Wildlife Professional.