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Continuing Species in the Spotlight Initiative Empowers NOAA Fisheries' Endangered Species Conservation Efforts

April 21, 2021

NOAA Fisheries releases new five-year action plans to continue the momentum to save nine critically endangered species.

Large black and white sea turtle swims in the blue ocean with yellow and black striped fish The Pacific leatherback sea turtles have existed in their current form without scales and a hard shell since the age of the dinosaurs, but threats from bycatch, egg harvesting, and degradation of nesting habit have made this species endangered. Photo credit Jason Isley, Scubazoo.

NOAA Fisheries has released nine new Species in the Spotlight Priority Action Plans. These plans highlight the most vital actions that NOAA Fisheries and our partners can take to reverse the declining populations of nine endangered marine species that are most at risk of extinction. Building on the successes of the past five years, NOAA Fisheries is renewing the initiative through 2025 to sustain momentum toward recovery.

The Species in the Spotlight initiative, launched in 2015, focuses time, energy, and resources on the most imperiled marine species. It motivates partners and community members to join the effort to save these species from extinction. The nine species are all listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act:

These species are at high risk of extinction in the near future because of a rapid population decline or habitat destruction. They face human-caused threats such as construction, development, or other economic activity.

“The Species in the Spotlight initiative is a critical effort by NOAA Fisheries and our partners to leverage our resources and make the greatest impact to reverse the decline of these endangered species. I’m pleased to build upon our successful efforts to date with the renewal of these Species in the Spotlight Priority Action Plans,” says Sam Rauch, Deputy Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Regulatory Programs.

    Five Years of Accomplishments

    Image
    Mom and calf whale swim close to each other in a deep blue ocean
    North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered with less than 400 remaining, making them one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Photo by Christin Khan under MMPA permit 17355.

    Through targeted actions to address the most urgent threats, the Species in the Spotlight initiative and the 2016–2020 Priority Action Plans have helped us achieve important milestones.

    • We launched the first-ever effort to vaccinate a wild population of Hawaiian monk seals against morbillivirus. As a result of these and other efforts, we are starting to see slow increases in the population.
    • We reintroduced approximately 560,000 winter-run Chinook salmon to establish a new population in California’s Battle Creek, and we have seen exciting signs of early success. More than 1,000 adults returned to Battle Creek, and in 2020 we documented the first successful spawning and natural production of juveniles in more than 100 years.
    Image
    A white abalone blends with its pink and orange background on the ocean floor
    White abalone were the first marine invertebrate to be listed on the Endangered Species Act, and the captive breeding program has reintroduced thousands of abalone into the wild. Photo by David Witting, NOAA Restoration Center.
    • We expanded the white abalone captive rearing program to improve production capabilities and began restoration activities in the wild by outplanting 4,200 captive-raised juveniles.
    • We have enhanced more than 200 miles of streams for Central California Coast coho salmon. We improved access to approximately 250 miles of streams and rivers for Atlantic salmon.
    • We have conducted research to better understand the threats to Cook Inlet beluga whales and Southern resident killer whales so we can fine-tune our recovery actions and maximize their effectiveness.
    • We have strengthened international cooperation to protect Pacific leatherback turtles and nests on key nesting beaches. We have reduced fisheries bycatch for Pacific leatherback sea turtles, and increased protection for North Atlantic right whales.

    Building on Our Success

    The 2021–2025 Priority Action Plans build on the previous action plans. They outline next steps toward completing the most vital actions needed in the near-term to halt the decline of these species and put them on the road to recovery. The new action plans will help NOAA Fisheries and its partners be strategic and targeted with recovery efforts. They will guide actions where we have the discretion to make critical investments to safeguard these endangered species.

    As the Endangered Species Act approaches its 50th anniversary, NOAA Fisheries continues to protect and recover all species we are responsible for in coordination with our federal, state, tribal, and local partners.