Critical Habitat Established For The Endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), in conjunction with the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), has designated two final rules for the critical habitat of the loggerhead sea turtle.
The turtle is a threatened species, and their habitat includes the Atlantic Ocean and coastal beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. NOAA has designated the area – near shore breeding sites, nesting beaches, migratory corridors and areas where juvenile turtles are found, from North Carolina through Mississippi – a critical habitat for the turtle.
According to Reuters, there are 88 nesting beaches in the coastal counties of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. This accounts for an estimated 685 miles of the 1,531 miles of coastal shore line and 84 percent of nesting areas that are used by the loggerhead sea turtle within these states.
“Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA’s mission. Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, in a recent statement.
“The fate of more than just the loggerhead sea turtle rests on the health of Atlantic coastal environments. Coastal communities from North Carolina to Mississippi are also intrinsically tied to these shorelines and waters. By conserving the turtle and protecting its habitat, we are helping preserve not only this emblematic species, but also the way of life for millions of Americans,” added USFWS Director Dan Ashe.
NOAA and USFWS are required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to designate critical habitat when a species is listed, or within one year if a critical habitat is not determined at that time. The loggerhead was originally listed in 1978 worldwide but was revised in 2011. At that time nine distinct population segments were added that included the only two under US jurisdiction, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean.
A critical habitat is described as a geographical area essential for the conservation and survival of a listed species. It is not a refuge or land ownership, it just restricts human activities where federal actions, funding or permitting is involved. This results in reducing the potential impact to the species’ habitat within US jurisdiction.
It doesn’t limit public access to these areas but requires that any federal activity such as drilling or fisheries be examined.
This announcement follows a lawsuit filed last year by environmental groups for the government to protect the area, which is home to 70,000 to 90,000 nesting sites yearly and makes up 84 percent of all known nesting sites of the turtle. The turtle can live approximately 40 years or more and weigh up to 250 pounds.
The potential threats to the turtle are fishing gear, pollution, and climate change, marine scientist Amanda Keledjian from the environmental group Oceana told Reuters. An estimated 50,000 loggerhead turtles are caught in fishing equipment yearly in the Gulf of Mexico, she adds.
“Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come,” Eileen Sobeck told Reuters report Harriet McLeod.