Bill Text (PDF)

Washington (June 16, 2023) – Today, on World Sea Turtle Day, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced the reintroduction of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to establish a new $30 million grant program at the Department of Commerce to fund institutions in Massachusetts and across the United States in their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate, and research stranded sea turtles. Congressman Bill Keating (MA-09) has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

All recognized species of sea turtles found within the United States are considered threatened or endangered. In 2000, 49 sea turtles were stranded and found on the beaches of Cape Cod, and in 2022, that number skyrocketed to 866. Current rescue efforts are predominantly volunteer and underfunded, but sea turtles face increasing risks that make strandings more likely, including temperature changes, red tide events, and entanglement in marine debris.

“We can’t leave our sea turtles stranded,” said Senator Markey. “Organizations and volunteers across the United States have rallied to help protect threatened and endangered sea turtles—now, it’s our turn to rally behind them. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan and bicameral legislation to provide much-needed financial support for invaluable sea turtle rescue efforts.”

“The waters off of the Texas Gulf Coast are home to several species of sea turtles which are crucial to the health of our diverse marine ecosystem,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation will support the rescue and recovery efforts of today while also investing in research to better protect the future of America’s sea turtle population.”

The federal government must step up to support sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation before it is too late," said Congressman Keating. "Passage of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act will reduce the strain on non-profit organizations doing the vital work to save these endangered animals, including the hundreds rescued on Cape Cod annually. I am proud to work with Senator Markey and the bipartisan group of co-sponsors committed to supporting sea turtle rescue efforts."

“Sea turtles are critical to our marine ecosystems and face serious threats to their survival. Conservation partners like the National Aquarium in Baltimore do important work to protect them – but these organizations need more support. This legislation will unlock more federal resources for their rescue and rehabilitation to support the sea turtle population and the overall health of our ocean life,” said Senator Van Hollen.

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

Cosponsors include Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Specifically, the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act would:

1.      Create a new grant program to fund rescue, recovery and research of sea turtles in the U.S., and authorize $5 million annually from 2024 through 2029 in new funding;

2.      Require that the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provide opportunities for engagement with stakeholders; and,

3.      Direct the Secretary of Commerce to prioritize applicants with an established record of rescuing, recovering, rehabilitating, transporting, or releasing stranded marine turtles or conducting scientific research pertinent to the causes of strandings.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act is endorsed by the New England Aquarium, ABQ BioPark, Allied Whale – College of the Atlantic, Assateague Coastal Trust, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Aquarium of the Pacific, Audubon Nature Institute, Bird River Beach Community Association, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Conservation Council For Hawaii, Georgia Aquarium, Georgia Sea Turtle Center / Jekyll Island Authority, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Gulf World Marine Institute, Houston Zoo, Jenkinson's Aquarium, Kansas City Zoo, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, Louisiana Wildlife Federation, Marine Education – Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Inc. (MERR), Marine Conservation Institute, Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, Mass Audubon, Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, National Aquarium, National Marine Life Center, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Marine Rescue Center, North Carolina Aquariums, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Sea Turtle Recovery, Inc., Seattle Aquarium, Seatuck Environmental Association, SeaWorld Parks, Shedd Aquarium, Sociedad Ornitologica Puertorriquena Inc., South Carolina Aquarium, South Carolina Wildlife Federation, Sunset Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, Surfrider Foundation, Texas Conservation Alliance, Texas Sealife Center, Texas State Aquarium, The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, The Florida Aquarium, The Ocean Project, Virgin Islands Conservation Society, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida, Wildlife Restoration Foundation, and Woodland Park Zoo.

“Successfully rescuing and rehabilitating hundreds of endangered sea turtles from the shores of New England each year involves a large network of partners across the country. Government funding assistance would have a significant impact on the continuation of this collaborative conservation work and the resulting research to solve ocean challenges. We thank Senator Markey and Representative Keating for their commitment to ensure the recovery and survival of these ocean animals,” said Vikki N. Spruill, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium.

“Sea turtles have the power to connect us all, and we see that every day in our aquariums through the eyes of our guests. Sea turtles are a pathway to conservation action, and their stories inspire everyone — regardless of where you live or political affiliation — to work toward a sustainable future for their sake, and our own. Witnessing our guests’ visceral reactions to sea turtles undergo rehabilitation within our aquariums only amplifies the importance of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, and its goal to build a federal funding stream to continue saving sea turtles and inspiring conservation of the natural world for generations to come,” said Kevin Mills, President and CEO of the South Carolina Aquarium.

The National Aquarium applauds Senators Markey, Van Hollen and Cornyn and Representatives Keating and González-Colón for introducing the bicameral, bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act of 2023. We are proud to be part of the nationwide network of organizations engaged in sea turtle conservation and in educating the public on the challenges facing these threatened and endangered species. Sea turtle strandings are on the rise as are the expenses related to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing them back to their ocean home. The level of voluntary contribution from stranding network partners is not sustainable. We thank Congressional champions for their leadership in creating a much-needed federal grant program to support this important work,” said John Racanelli, President and CEO of the National Aquarium.