New Rules In California Protect Endangered Whales and Sea Turtles

In a sea of bad news, we welcome any good news. Out of the golden state, comes that bit of good news we all need. The state of California recently took action to protect sea life. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) released a new rule to reduce the risk of marine life, including endangered whales and sea turtles, becoming entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear. The new rules went into effect on November 1, 2020, and apply to humpback whales, blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles.  

lawsuit and severe increases in whale entanglements prompted the state to enact the new rule. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2017 after whale entanglements off the California coast broke records for three years in a row. In 2016, of the 29 cases where the gear could be identified that entangled, 22 were commercial Dungeness crab gear from California. Humpback whales were identified in 17 of the cases and one leatherback sea turtle was found dead and entangled in rock crab gear. The lawsuit led to an agreement in 2019 with the state to end the last two crab seasons before the spring whale migration. 

“It’s good to see California finally taking whale entanglements seriously,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center’s oceans legal director, in a statement. “This new system should reduce the risk crab gear poses to whales and sea turtles. But we’re disappointed that officials didn’t do more to encourage conversion to ropeless gear, which is the only way to truly eliminate the threat of entanglement for these ocean animals.”

The danger of Dungeness crab traps

Fish harvesters catch Dungeness crab with circular steel traps on the seafloor. Bait in the traps attracts the crab and the traps capture them. The thick ropes connected to the commercial Dungeness crab traps entangle whales and sea turtles, injuring and killing them. The ropes cut into the flesh of the whales and turtles, causing them to drown. When whales become entangled in crab gear, they often end up trailing fishing gear behind them, which can sever appendages. Around 75 percent of whale entanglements are fatal. Entangled sea turtles can drown from being anchored to the gear. 

Dungeness crab traps are the most common gear identified in entanglements off the West Coast. The state’s new Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program evaluates the necessity of mitigation measures like shortening the season or closing an area to crab gear to reduce entanglements.

Protecting endangered marine animals

California’s new rules protect endangered marine animals off of the state’s shores. In 1970, the U.S. federal government listed humpback whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, and under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Known for their long flippers, humpback whales are still protected as endangered in four out of the 14 distinct population segments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The longest animal on earth, the blue whale has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and weighs up to 200 tons. The loudest animal on earth, the blue whale is louder even than a jet engine. First listed as endangered in 1970, the blue whale is protected by the ESA throughout its range. 

Named for their shells which have a texture more like leather than hard like other turtles, leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtle species. Pacific leatherbacks migrate from the Coral Triangle to the California coast. Their global population decreased by 40 percent over the last three generations. All leatherback populations are protected under the ESA. 

The Financial Case For Valuing Nature

Species extinction is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, according to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Since 1900, the average abundance of native species decreased by at least 20 percent. Over 40 percent of amphibian species, nearly 33 percent of reef-forming coral, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. 

The massive disruption of nature occurring affects humanity. The health and well-being of plants and animals are tied to human health and well-being. A 2013 study found “ample evidence…that nearly every dimension of human health is being affected” by damaging nature, while a 2007 study found that climate change and other changes to nature pose threats to human health. 

While benefits to human health are clear, is there a financial case for valuing nature? Approximately $44 trillion of global GDP, more than half of the world’s GDP, depends on nature and its services, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum. The three largest sectors that are very dependent on nature (construction, agriculture, and food and beverages) combined generate nearly $8 trillion of gross value added (GVA). That is about twice the size of Germany’s economy.

Some examples show how valuing nature makes financial sense. The global loss of all pollinators would cause a decrease in annual agricultural output of about $217 billion.  Recent climate research puts a value on carbon captured of up to $600 per ton, which implies a value of forests of over $100 trillion.  Up to one-third of the medicines used today were found originally in plants and other natural substances or derived from naturally occurring substances.

Valuing Nature: Governments must pave the way

The estimated biodiversity financing gap between $598 billion to $824 billion per year over the next ten years can be bridged, according to a recent report by The Paulson Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. 

Closing the nature financing gap depends heavily on government actions, which means governments must do more to protect nature. Governments need to implement policy reforms such as reforming harmful agricultural subsidies. Governments must also create new financial innovations to increase funding for conservation, promote green investments, and support the development of nature-based climate solutions. 

While the private sector plays a crucial role, governments need to put the right regulatory framework in place, plus incentives and market structures to drive the flow of finances from the private sector into conservation. The only way to stop global biodiversity loss is to ensure that all economies value nature. Accomplishing that goal requires bold political leadership, transformative policies, mechanisms, and incentives that discourage harmful actions and encouraging large scale-finance. 

The report recommends policy actions governments can take immediately to close the nature financing gap. One of those policy actions is protecting their natural capital and expanding biodiversity conservation financing. Other policy actions include using funds strategically to implement the financing mechanisms the report identified and strengthening regulatory and financial enabling conditions to significantly accelerate actions and finance in the private sector for biodiversity conservation.

“While the public sector is crucial, the analysis and recommendations in Financing Nature highlight that there is a realistic pathway for the business and finance sector to go from being part of the problem to being a critical part of the solution to biodiversity loss,” said John Tobin, Professor of Practice of Corporate Sustainability at Cornell University and an authority on biodiversity finance, in a statement.


Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Court Rules Fish and Wildlife Service Develop New Recovery Plan for Endangered Red Wolves

Endangered Red Wolves have lost nearly all of its habitat. A court ruling requires US Fish and Wildlife Service create a recovery plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must update its plan to save endangered red wolves. The decision is a result of a legal agreement reached on behalf of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity. Red wolves, native to the southeastern U.S., declined to only nine known wolves in the wild, living in eastern North Carolina

“With only nine wolves known to remain in the wild, the red wolf desperately needed this good news,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and I’m hopeful that a new recovery plan will put the species back on the road to recovery.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2019, challenging the failure of the FWS to revise its 1990 recovery plan for the red wolf. The FWS failed to follow through on its 2017 commitment to update the recovery plan by the end of 2018. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to create and implement roadmaps, which serves as a roadmap for species recovery. 

Red Wolves Can Recover

The agreement, approved on October 2 by a North Carolina federal court, requires the FWS to complete a final revised plan for red wolves by February 28, 2023. The Endangered Species Act requires that the agency prepare plans that serve as roadmaps to species recovery. The plan must identify measures to ensure conservation and survival, such as reintroductions. Recovery plans must include a description of site-specific management actions necessary for species recovery, measurable criteria that would result in the delisting of a species, and estimates of the time and costs required to achieve the plan’s goal.

About 20,000 square miles of public land in five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) in the southeastern U.S. would work well to reintroduce red wolves, a 2019 report by the Center for Biological Diversity shows. The public land in the five states could support about 500 breeding pairs of red wolves. The report recommended that the FWS develop a new recovery plan for the red wolf. A new recovery plan is “critical to saving this species and fostering a future where they can survive and ultimately thrive,” according to the report.

The most endangered canid in the world

Red wolves once populated the southeastern U.S., roaming to Texas in the west, as far south as Florida, and up into the midwest. It has lost 99.7 percent of its historical range. The unlucky wolf species lost more of its historical range than any other large carnivore in the world. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the red wolf as “critically endangered.” They are the world’s most endangered canid, according to Defenders of Wildlife

The current dire status of the red wolf can be attributed to mismanagement, illegal killing, and hybridization with coyotes. The red wolves compete with coyotes for territory and often end up mating with them. Private landowners and livestock farmers often shoot them, mistaking them for coyotes. 

Are you tired of environmental destruction?

Are you tired of critically endangered species like the red wolves only receiving adequate protection because of a court decision? Take action on November 3 and vote for the candidate most likely to enact beneficial environmental policies.