Washington, D.C. – The Senate today approved the “Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2003.” The legislation authored by U.S. Sens. Jim Jeffords, I – Vt., and James Inhofe, R – Ok., will assist in the recovery and protection of marine turtles by supporting projects to conserve their nesting habitats in foreign countries, preventing the illegal trade in marine turtle parts and products, and addressing other threats. The bill authorizes $5 million annually to implement the program. Jeffords said, “The Marine Turtle Conservation Act will benefit projects from the Caribbean to Africa to the Pacific where small financial investments can be leveraged into larger conservation gains. These funds will address an urgent need and help to preserve this ancient and distinctive part of the world's biological diversity.” Inhofe said, “This bill will promote the conservation of imperiled species like the Kemp’s ridley, the world’s rarest sea turtle. Several decades ago many people believed this remarkable animal was headed for extinction, but, as a result of enormous dedication and focused funding, this species has increased from several hundred nesting females in 1985 to over 3,500 nesters today." "This legislation complements the growing interest in sea turtles around the world and new scientific breakthroughs in our understanding of their biology," said Marydele Donnelly, sea turtle scientist with The Ocean Conservancy. "By providing funds for programs in communities overseas, we will support activities critical to the future of the world's magnificent and endangered sea turtles. We thank the Senate for its bipartisan support, and especially Senators Inhofe and Jeffords for their leadership." Six of the seven recognized marine turtle species are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and all seven species have been included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Because marine turtles are long-living, late-maturing, and highly migratory, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of human exploitation and habitat loss. In addition, for some species, illegal trade seriously threatens wild populations. Because of the immense challenges facing marine turtles, the resources available to date have not been sufficient to cope with the continued loss of nesting habitat due to human activities and the resulting diminution of marine turtle populations. The Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2003 is modeled after the successful Asian Elephant Conservation Act, the African Elephant Conservation Act, and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act introduced by Jeffords in in 2001 . These acts have established programs within the Department of the Interior to assist in the conservation and preservation of these species around the world. More than 300 projects have been funded and generated millions of dollars in private matching funds from sponsors representing a diverse group of conservation organizations. The projects range from purchasing anti-poaching equipment for wildlife rangers to implementing elephant conservation plans to aerial monitoring of the Northern white rhinoceros.