Week of 07/01/2007

Dear EarthTalk: What is the status of Sea Turtle protection efforts? Don’t many of them die in fishnets and, as a result, are threatened with extinction?

—Matthew Lieberman, Wellesley, MA

Given their tenuous existence, sea turtles are considered by many environmentalists as ambassadors for the world’s troubled oceans. They have graced the seas for more than 200 million years and survived whatever catastrophe befell the dinosaurs. But they are now facing a sharp decline in numbers around the world due mainly to human threats such as the alteration of beach nesting habitat, the harvesting of eggs for food, entanglement in fishing nets and pollution of ocean waters.

Found in all the warm ocean waters of the Earth, sea turtles generally remain at sea, returning to the surface for air and only coming ashore to lay eggs and nest. The five species of sea turtles found in and around North America are the leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead.

Sea turtles are protected in and around U.S. waters under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which lists the hawksbill, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and green turtle as "endangered," while the loggerhead is listed as "threatened." (A species is considered endangered when it is on the brink of extinction; if it is experiencing serious threats that may eventually lead to its extinction, but the situation is not yet critical, it is classified as threatened.) Harming, harassing, killing, importing, selling or transporting any sea turtle, hatchling or eggs is considered a violation of federal law punishable by a stiff fine and jail time.

Outside the U.S., many other countries have similar laws designed to protect the world’s remaining and beloved sea turtles. And the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international agreement signed by 169 countries and designed to prevent the trade in endangered wild animals and their parts, also protects sea turtles. But such measures often look much better on paper; enforcement efforts are often inadequate and as a result sea turtle populations continue to plummet.

According to the Florida-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation (also known as the Sea Turtle Survival League), present goals for protecting sea turtles include: cracking down on the illegal international trade in turtles and turtle products; forcing fishing boats to use "turtle excluder devices" in their nets to decrease turtle deaths; establishing more coastal refuges to keep development from encroaching on turtle nesting beaches; decreasing artificial light near nesting beaches (light scares turtles away); enforcing laws to minimize the dumping of pollutants and solid waste into the ocean and near-shore waters; and stepping up turtle monitoring activities so conservation efforts can stay focused where they are most needed.

Individuals can do their part by steering clear of sea turtles when they are laying eggs on beaches, making sure to never remove or handle a turtle egg in any way, and keeping house lights (and even flashlights and camera flashes) off at night on or near nesting beaches. Concerned persons can also help by joining and supporting organizations working to protect sea turtles, such as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation.

CONTACTS: Caribbean Conservation/Sea Turtles and Threats to Their Survival,"; Sea Turtle Restoration Project; National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation

Dear EarthTalk: How much pollution do motorcycles generate? Are there efforts to make them more eco-friendly?

—Matt Lackore, Rochester, MN

Motorcycles typically get about double the gas mileage of even the most fuel-efficient cars—but that doesn’t mean they are green. Despite getting 60-70 miles per gallon, motorcycles are not subject to the same rigorous emissions standards as cars and light duty trucks, even though they spew up to 15 times more pollution per mile, mostly in the form of smog-causing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.

Increasingly stringent regulations in Europe and the U.S. have forced automakers to make their engines cleaner, but motorcycle manufacturers have not been held to such high standards and have therefore been slow to implement similar advances. According to the European Commission, motorcycles—despite only accounting for about three percent of total traffic volume in Europe—are expected to generate as much as 14 percent of that continent’s total hydrocarbon emissions by 2010.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, thanks in large part to the state of California, which in 2004 passed legislation to green up motorcycles sold and ridden in that state. California’s new standards dictate that hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions from motorcycles top out at only 0.8 grams per kilometer (g/km), down from 1975-set standards of between 5.0 and 14.0 g/km (depending on engine size).

And in 2005, the United Nations" World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, which works internationally to set vehicle emissions standards, issued a new set of motorcycle emissions testing guidelines that will make it easier for manufacturers to design more green-friendly motorcycles.

In the wake of these developments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new federal rules that require motorcycle makers to reduce their products" emissions by 50 percent. In place since the beginning of the 2006 model year, these new rules are expected to cut combined hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions from motorcycles by about 54,000 tons a year, while also saving approximately 12 million gallons of fuel annually by preventing it from escaping from fuel hoses and fuel tanks.

Many manufacturers are rising to the challenge. Honda, already a world leader in the development of greener cars, is putting the finishing touches on its new "idling stop system" that cuts fuel consumption and exhaust emissions by turning off the engine instead of idling at stop lights and in traffic jams. And Intelligent Energy, a British company, is developing an Emissions Neutral Vehicle (ENV), a motorcycle powered by a detachable hydrogen-powered fuel cell. The vehicle can reach speeds topping 50 miles per hour while making virtually no noise, and can run for up to four hours without refueling. Bigger, faster and longer running versions of the ENV are currently in the works, and should become widely available in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere within a few years.

CONTACTS: California’s "New Standards for On-Road Motorcycles,"; EPA’s Motorcycle Emissions Info; Honda Motorcycles; Intelligent Energy