Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Failure to Protect Turtles in Louisiana, Mississippi

NEW ORLEANS— The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued the Trump administration today for failing to protect two species of map turtles under the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, notes that the Pascagoula and Pearl River map turtles are found only in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Center, Healthy Gulf and other groups petitioned to protect the two species in 2010, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to decide their status.

At least 47 plant and animal species have gone extinct waiting for protection since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

“These turtles are in steep decline and face major threats, yet the Trump administration is dragging its feet on protecting them,” said Jason Totoiu, a Center attorney. “The two species are unique to just these two rivers, but they’re being driven to oblivion by trapping, pollution and reckless development, including yet another unnecessary dam proposed on the Pearl River. They need safeguards before it’s too late.”

The turtles are threatened by habitat loss and degradation from dams, floodplain clearing and river channelization. The “One Lake” project, a proposed dam in Mississippi’s Rankin and Hinds counties, threatens the Pearl River map turtle. The dam would destroy important habitat and possibly drive the species extinct in the area.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s slow approach to protecting this turtle and its habitat has made it easier for the local Drainage District to follow the lead of developers and pursue the most environmentally damaging alternative for Pearl River flood management — dredging and damming to give Jackson Mississippi an urban riverfront,” said Andrew Whitehurst, Healthy Gulf’s water program director.

Since poor water quality can devastate their populations, map turtles serve as indicators of river health. Other threats include harvest of turtles for sale in Asian food and medicinal markets and collection for the pet trade.

Map turtles are often called “sawbacks” for the ridges along their backs that can form small spikes. Pearl River map turtles can live up to 30 years in the wild.

The Pascagoula map turtle has a relatively small range in the Pascagoula river system in Mississippi, while the Pearl River map turtle is only found in creeks and rivers within the Pearl River drainage of Mississippi and Louisiana. The Pearl River map turtle was once considered to be the same species as Pascagoula map turtle, but scientists later determined the two are, in fact, separate species.



Pascagoula map turtle.        Image is available for media use. Please credit: Grover Brown.                                        


Pearl River map turtle.                                  Image is available for media use.                                        



 The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Healthy Gulf began in 1994 with a mission to unite and empower people to protect the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico for future generations.



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