SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) – Over the past three decades, the population of leatherback sea turtles in California has declined each year from 178 to just 50, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Leatherback sea turtles are the world’s largest turtle species weighing an average of 1,000 pounds.

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They have been on the federal endangered species list since 1973, with a 5.6% decrease in population each year.

Recently, scientists have discovered how crucial California is to their survival, according to Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

This subpopulation of sea turtles hatches on beaches in Indonesia. Once fully grown, they swim nearly 6,000 miles to eat jellyfish off the California coast.

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California is essential to their survival.

The California Fish and Game Commission, located in Downtown Sacramento, voted Thursday to add the turtles under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

Adding turtles to California’s endangered species list will make them a conservation priority for state agencies. It will also increase the state’s cooperation with federal agencies to protect the sea turtle population.

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“Leatherbacks that forage for jellyfish off the California coast will now receive greater protection in our state from entanglement in fishing gear, giving them a better chance at survival,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are hopeful this action will put these ancient, gentle giants on a path to recovery.”