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Some Green Sea Turtles Can Now Wave Goodbye To Their Endangered Status

Turtle power!

20/04/2016 1:48 AM AEST | Updated 20/04/2016 1:48 AM AEST
Hugh Gentry / Reuters
A green sea turtle.

Slow and steady won the race, at least for a few green sea turtles.

U.S. officials announced early this month that breeding populations in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico are off the endangered list.

They will be re-classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which means they are no longer immediately threatened by extinction but still merit protection under the act.

"It's just like the manatees. Even though the turtles have been downgraded, it won't affect them as far as enforcement goes," FWC spokesman Bobby Dube told Florida Keys Keynoter.

In Florida alone, there are about 2,250 nesting females counted on beaches each year. That is up from just a handful when the breeding populations were first listed as endangered in 1978, a FWS spokesman told Discovery News.

Ranu Abhelakh / Reuters
Baby green sea turtles crawl to the water from their nest.

The pop in population is due to protection of nesting beaches, reduction of bycatch in fisheries and prohibitions on the direct harvest of sea turtles, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a press release.

As part of the change, FWS and NOAA will also divide the species into 11 distinct populations segments, “allowing for tailored conservation approaches for each population,” they said. Of these 11 populations only three are now considered endangered -- those that live in the Mediterranean Sea, Central South Pacific and Central West Pacific Ocean.

Paul Kennedy/Getty Images
Green sea turtle resting on coral reef under boat mooring line.

Green sea turtles, which are dubbed “green” due to the color of their cartilage and fat and not their shells, are also important to the ocean’s ecosystem, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They graze on the sea grass and algae, keeping sea grass beds healthy, “much like mowing the lawn to keep it healthy,” WWF explains. Sea grass also acts as nurseries for many species of fish, many of which have value to commercial fisheries and are important to human food security. WWF cites people who hunt adult turtles, the loss of their nesting beaches sites, over-harvesting of their eggs and being caught in fishing gear as the main threats to the species. 

PABLO COZZAGLIO/Getty Images
Bette Zirkelbach holding a green sea turtle afflicted by a kind of herpes virus that causes fibropapillomatosis at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida in the Florida Keys.

Discovery News also cites a herpes-related virus called fibropapillomatosis, which causes fatal tumors, as a threat as well.

"Although the nesting numbers are increasing and that's positive, the disease is increasing," Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, told Florida Keys Keynoter. "If we don't continue to protect them, we're going to have a lot more sick sea turtles."

Zirkelbach attributes the disease to pollution in the water and says that 119 green sea turtles came into the Turtle Hospital with the disease in 2015.

PABLO COZZAGLIO/Getty Images
A closer look at the disease.

Yet, regardless of the threats, many experts, like Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity say that the re-classification is a turtle-ly awesome win for the species, telling Discovery News:

“The undeniable recovery of most green sea turtle populations creates a hopeful spot in our changing oceans.”

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