Sunday, January 22, 2012

Federal regulators designated nearly 42,000 square miles of ocean along the West Coast as critical habitat for the Pacific leatherback turtle Friday, far less than originally proposed but still the largest protected area ever established in American waters.

The protected area is the first permanent safe haven in the waters of the continental United States for endangered leatherbacks, which swim 6,000 miles every year to eat jellyfish outside the Golden Gate.

The designation, by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, was a bittersweet victory for environmentalists, who have been fighting to protect the marine reptiles from extinction.

The 41,914 square miles that the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service protected along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington did not include the migration routes the turtles take to get to the feeding grounds. That means 28,686 square miles of habitat originally proposed for the designation was left unprotected.

"It's a big step in the right direction, but we want protections for migratory pathways," said Ben Enticknap, the Pacific project manager for Oceana, an international nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world's oceans. "I guess we've got a lot more work to do to get there."

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