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Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle is the Official CA Marine Reptile

Pacific Leatherback turtle (<em>Dermochelys coriacea</em>) seen in Monterey Bay, CA. Photo courtesy of Mark Cotter.

Assembly Bill No. 1776 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on September 26, 2012 and filed by the Secretary of State on September 26, 2012, establishing the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the official state marine reptile.

Existing law establishes the state flag and the state’s emblems, including, among other things, the poppy as the official state flower, the California redwood as the official state tree, and the California desert tortoise as the official state reptile.  This bill designates October 15, 2013, and every October 15 thereafter, as Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day. The bill encourages public schools, state and federal agencies, nongovernmental agencies, fishers, coastal tour operators, and other interested stakeholders to engage in certain activities, as specified.

The Legislature acknowledges that the Pacific leatherback sea turtle population has experienced a catastrophic decline over the past two decades and might be on the verge of extinction.  The Legislature further acknowledges that Pacific leatherback sea turtles are among the most imperiled of any sea turtle population in any ocean basin on Earth and that populations of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, a 100-million-year-old species that outlived the dinosaurs, have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 25 years.
Pacific leatherback sea turtles foraging off the coast of California are part of a distinct Western Pacific breeding stock that nests on beaches in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.  California’s coastal waters are high-use foraging areas for summer nesters from this critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Satellite tracking conducted over the past decade has determined that after nesting hundreds of individual Pacific leatherback sea turtles swim more than 6,000 miles over 10 to 12 months to cross the Pacific to feed on jellyfish in California coastal waters every year.  The Pacific leatherback sea turtles’ trans-Pacific migration involved multiple years of migrating between California coastal waters during the summer and lower latitude wintering areas without returning to Western Pacific nesting beaches.  These movements and foraging strategies underscore the importance of and the need for ecosystem-based management and coordinated Pacific-wide conservation efforts.
The Legislature supports efforts to recover and preserve the Pacific leatherback sea turtle population in oceanic feeding and migration areas, which are identified as important strategies for their continued survival.  On February 26, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated more than 16,000 square miles of California’s coastal waters, and a total of nearly 42,000 square miles along the United States West Coast, as critical habitat to protect high-use foraging areas and primary prey species for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle under the federal Endangered Species Act.
For more information on AB 1776, go to this link.
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