The Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the United States’ landmark conservation policies, was established in 1973 to help protect species on the brink of extinction. Once a species is “listed”, it is protected from being harmed, harassed, captured, or collected. Nearly 2000 animals are listed under the ESA, 165 of which are marine species. And, as of January of this year, it appears that marine mammals and sea turtles protected by the ESA are recovering.
Over 60 marine mammals and sea turtles are listed and make up nearly 40 percent of all marine species protected by the ESA. Scientists from the Center for Biological Diversity examined the recovery trajectories for 31 populations of 22 species listed before 2012. Specifically, they looked at 14 marine mammals and 5 sea turtle species that spend part of their lives in U.S. waters. These included beluga and killer whales, Hawaiian monk seals, and loggerhead turtles.
Overall, the study found that after ESA protections were applied, nearly three-quarters of the marine mammal and sea turtle populations analyzed had grown. The 24 populations that showed growth had been listed under the ESA for more than 20 years. They likely benefited from several conservation measures that were enacted, including changes in fishing regulations and species-specific management strategies.
However, whether these populations will continue to grow remains to be seen. Earlier this week, the Trump Administration released revisions to the ESA that weaken certain protections. Although the ESA is broadly accepted, with 83 percent of Americans supporting the policy, it can create financial burdens for companies attempting to use or extract natural resources. Thus, these changes fit within the Administration’s mandate to reduce regulatory burdens and will have a series of consequences for future listing efforts, with implications for listing species, designating key habitats for endangered species, protecting threatened wildlife and plants, and even cooperation among agencies. These changes could be put into effect as early as next month.