Federal wildlife agencies say Hawaii's green sea turtles should continue to be classified as threatened because its population is small and nearly all of them nest at the same low-lying atoll.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its proposal on Friday.

The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs petitioned the agency in 2012 to study whether Hawaii's green sea turtles might have recovered to the point where they no longer need Endangered Species Act protections.

But Patrick Opay, endangered species branch chief of NOAA's Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office, says Hawaii has fewer than 4,000 nesting green sea turtles. He says 96 percent of them nest at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

He says this makes them vulnerable to disease outbreaks, rising sea levels and other threats.