Conservationists and animal protection groups have joined forces to stymie a proposal to lift federal protections from the Hawaiian green sea turtle, or honu. About 126,000 people submitted comments opposing a petition by the Association of Hawaii Civic Clubs to remove honu from the Endangered Species List. It was designated as threatened in 1978.
Turtle advocates argue that federal recovery goals of having 5,000 nesting females annually are not even close to being met. Only 843 nesters were reported within the Hawaiian archipelago in 2011; for the past decade, the average has hovered around 390 nesters per year.
“It’s far too soon to take away the protections that just recently helped Hawaii’s green sea turtle come back from the brink of extinction,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.
But Don Heacock, state aquatic biologist for Kauai, said delisting would not lead to harvesting or depletion of the species, because honu would still be protected by state law and other federal regulations.
“The scientific community, particularly the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, agrees that honu populations have completely recovered and list them as “a species of least concern,’” Heacock wrote in an email to the Weekly. “So let’s let one agency manage and protect them instead of three.”
Asked to comment, “I respectfully disagree with my friend Don,” wrote Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff in an email to the Weekly. “I don’t know whether the honu was automatically listed under state law because it was federally listed, but if so, it would just as automatically be delisted.” Achitoff warned that delisting could have a snowball effect, rendering the honu ever more vulnerable. “And even if it was not [automatically delisted], the state might conclude that federal delisting means that listing is no longer necessary, and follow suit.”
Already, honu are being taken despite their protected status.“I don’t view commercial hunting as the only kind of hunting that’s undesirable in this case,” Achitoff wrote.
Conservationists say it appears that honu are already being illegally hunted, even with federal regulations in place. They cited recent findings on Maui of sea turtle shells and remains, along with gear that might have been used to drown the animals.