SACRAMENTO, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- California, which already has a state flower, a state bird and even a state fossil, may soon have an official marine reptile, lawmakers say.
A bill introduced in the state assembly would add the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle to a growing list of symbols that includes the California quail; the gray whale; the California poppy; the garibaldi, the state marine fish; and the saber-tooth cat, the state fossil; the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
The symbolic act, a part of raising awareness about the threatened creatures, comes as the federal government is setting aside 41,000 square miles of the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback turtles, which have been on the endangered species list since 1970.
The population of the turtles, which can weigh 2,000 pounds and measure 8 feet long, has dropped by more than 95 percent in the last thirty years because of disease, the harvesting of their eggs and entanglement in fishing gear.
The designation as a state reptile is part of a "coordinated worldwide conservation effort" to save the sea turtles from extinction, Assemblyman Paul Fong, the bill's sponsor, said.
It "will demonstrate California's commitment to protecting leatherback sea turtles and our ocean's ecosystem," he said.