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Sea turtles at risk as Trump weakens protections of animals endangered by climate crisis

23 / 08 / 2019, Yahoo Science

Administration’s move is a ‘head in the sand approach’ that will further imperil creatures threatened by the climate crisisA loggerhead sea turtle. Rising seas and escalating temperatures threaten to wipe out some of the world’s premier sea turtle nesting habitat. Photograph: Denise Cathey/APLife as a sea turtle is already harrowing. Emerging alone from a shell to crawl through a deadly gauntlet of predatory birds, dogs and ants, all for the goal of reaching the ocean, a place where fish swallow you whole and fragments of discarded plastic slowly suffocate you.Now climate change – in the form of sea level rise, rising temperatures and fiercer storms – is adding further, existential hardships and in the US a recent weakening of endangered species protections by the Trump administration will further imperil sea turtles and other creatures threatened by the climate crisis.So a coalition of environmental groups has launched a federal court lawsuit to halt the Trump administration’s new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, America’s bedrock conservation law. The changes will, among other things, limit consideration of threats to species to the “foreseeable future” and make it harder to place protections on important habitat.Conservationists say this new regime is likely to disregard the looming long-term danger posed by climate change to creatures such as the Canada lynx, which is deemed likely to be largely wiped out by 2100, as well as the Florida key deer, a diminutive endangered deer, and the Florida mole skink, a five-inch-long lizard, both of which reside in Florida Keys, an area acutely vulnerable to sea level rise.The Trump administration’s move is a “head in the sand approach to climate change”, according to Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing the federal government.Karimah Schoenhut, a Sierra Club staff attorney, added: “In the face of the climate crisis, the result of this abandonment of responsibility will be extinction.”The Endangered Species Act, which became law in 1973, has been hailed for warding off the extinction of species including the bald eagle, American alligator and the humpback whale.The Trump administration has said its new interpretation will make the act more efficient and business-friendly. “The act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior.But the climate crisis poses a relentless, multifaceted threat to species that 1970s lawmakers could barely conceive. Recent research has found many animals are unlikely to adapt quickly enough to global heating, even species like birds that are considered highly mobile and able to adjust the timing of egg laying.In Florida, the rising seas and escalating temperatures threaten to wipe out some of the world’s premier sea turtle nesting habitat. Eroding beaches are washing away egg-laden nests, while the rising heat is distorting the sex of hatchlings by making many more embryos female than male.Justin Perrault has worked to conserve sea turtles along a nine-mile expanse of Juno Beach, north of Miami. He was previously able to drive a vehicle along the sand in front of a stretch of seawall but that is now impossible as the beach has winnowed away.“Certain parts of the beach get very narrow with the erosion, which seems to be getting worse,” sad Perrault, research director at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. “We are getting more frequent storms which wipes out nests too. We lost a lot when Hurricane Irma hit.”Juno Beach is one of the most densely nested sites in the world for loggerhead turtles. There are about 21,000 nests on the beach, including loggerheads, leatherback and green turtles, with the animals laying eggs throughout spring and summer. The scale of this nesting would make it a enormous task to relocate the turtles elsewhere as the seas continue to rise along the low-lying Florida coast.A trio of environment groups recently launched a separate lawsuit against the Trump administration to force it to protect green turtle habitat, in an effort to stave off the worst.Similar legal challenges are being waged over other species left alone to cope with climate change, such as California’s fabled Joshua trees, which scientists predict will mostly vanish even if planet-warming emissions are rapidly cut. The federal government recently dismissed a petition to protect the trees under the Endangered Species Act.“It appears that this administration is ignoring the science because they don’t believe in climate change,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups suing the government. “This is blatant disregard of the climate crisis.”But the overwhelming range of environmental changes triggered by the climate crisis means that many species are still likely to perish even if they are protected under the law. The battle against the Trump administration may ultimately prove futile.“Climate change is basically going to swamp the Endangered Species Act as it’s not equipped to deal with global-scale disruptions,” said JB Ruhl, an environmental law expert at Vanderbilt University. “The act can’t stop that.”

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