Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance and Rehabilitation Act Passes U.S. House of Representatives

Legislation championed by the National Aquarium and dozens of partner organizations would help fill a crucial gap in support for endangered sea turtles

The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance and Rehabilitation Act, originally known as the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, April 12, 2024. For more than four years, the National Aquarium has enthusiastically partnered with Representative William Keating (MA-9) and more than 70 organizations from 27 states and territories to advocate for this important legislation which could increase direct federal investment in sea turtle stranding response, rescue, rehabilitation and release, providing much needed financial support for organizations like the National Aquarium that have long undertaken this painstaking work on behalf of all sea turtle species native to U.S. waters.

While the federal government has long provided support for programs providing similar services for marine mammal stranding, response and rehabilitation, no permanent federal grant program exists to assist sea turtle rescue programs. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and other bipartisan champions in Congress, the federal government has already begun to provide limited funding for sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation over the last two years. The passing of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance and Rehabilitation Act through the House brings the Aquarium and other rescue organizations one step closer to establishing a permanent grant program for years to come.

In their leadership roles within the foremost advocate organizations of this legislation, National Aquarium President & CEO John Racanelli, New England Aquarium President & CEO Vikki N. Spruill, and South Carolina Aquarium President & CEO Kevin Mills released the following joint statement after the House vote:

"We are grateful for the growing bipartisan momentum for this important legislation and the resounding support of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is time for Congress to adequately support those who have voluntarily helped the federal government fulfill its mandate under the Endangered Species Act to conserve and recover sea turtle species. To continue this critical sea turtle rescue, recovery, and research, organizations like ours across the country need sustained federal support. We encourage the Senate to act quickly to pass this bipartisan legislation."

Since its inception in 1991, National Aquarium Animal Rescue has rescued, rehabilitated and released more than 400 animals—primarily sea turtles—in their role as the organization federally permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to sick and injured sea turtles and marine mammals along Maryland's 3,190 miles of coastline. We also partner with other institutions to rehabilitate animals that strand up and down the East Coast, and work with the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network (GARS) year-round to assist with animal rescue operations, transports, monitoring, rehabilitation, releases and more. In the course of a typical year, we work with these partners to assist in rehabilitating and returning dozens of sea turtles back to their ocean home. Turtles from the 2023-2024 rescue season remain in the care of our Animal Rescue team. These sea turtles typically require rehabilitation related to the impacts of climate-driven cold-stunning events or human interactions, including boat strikes, fishing by-catch and habitat loss.

The National Aquarium and our partners will now focus our attention on the U.S. Senate, where a companion bill is already enjoying growing bipartisan support.

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