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Leatherback sea turtle protected on West Coast

The Pacific leatherback turtle will receive more protection under new federal regulations.

Over 40,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean along the West Coast have been designated as “critical habitat” for the declining turtle.

The leatherback is the biggest sea turtle and can grow to be as large as a compact car.

The reptile travels from Indonesia to the West Coast to feast on the jellyfish found in the Monterey Bay. The new protected area includes the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. However, the 28,686 square miles of migratory routes that the turtles use to reach their feeding grounds are unprotected.

Catherine Kilduff from the Center for Biological Diversity told the San Jose Mercury News, “Habitat protections are vital to the survival of leatherbacks, but this rule falls short of the goal. Sea turtles will continue to swim a gauntlet to get to the best feeding areas off our coast, dodging ship traffic, long nets and hooks.”

Ben Enticknap, the Pacific project manager for international nonprofit Oceana, added, “It’s a big step in the right direction, but we want protections for migratory pathways. I guess we’ve got a lot more work to do to get there.”

Since the 1980s, the number of leatherbacks has decreased by 95 percent.

Teri Shore, the program director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Threats to these turtles are increasing, not diminishing. We don’t want to see the leatherback turtles go the way of the grizzly bear and disappear.”