Leatherback Critical Habitat Revisions to be Assessed During Status Review
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 4, 2011
Contact: Lilibeth Serrano, Lilibeth_Serrano@fws.gov, 787-505-4397
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that revisions should be made to the leatherback sea turtle's current critical habitat designation.
Its decision is part of a combined 90-day finding and a 12-month determination on a petition to designate critical habitat for the leatherback in Puerto Rico. A comprehensive status review for this species, federally listed as endangered since 1970, will be completed, and critical habitat revisions will be considered pending the results of that review.
Until the Service and the NMFS conduct the planned leatherback status review and any associated rulemakings, the current critical habitat designation remains in effect. Areas within the designation, as well as areas that support leatherback sea turtles outside of the designation, continue to be subject to conservation actions implemented under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In March 1978, the Service designated a beach area in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, now the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, as critical habitat for the leatherback. On February 22, 2010, the Service received a petition from the Sierra Club requesting the critical habitat designation be revised to include the coastline of the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC) of Puerto Rico, a coastline from Luquillo to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The petition includes the beaches known as San Miguel I and II, Paulinas, El Convento Norte, and Seven Seas and extends about 40 meters or 132 feet inland from the mean high tide line. Beaches within the NEC are close to 5.43 miles long. The portion of the petition requesting designation of critical habitat for marine habitats offshore from the NEC is being addressed by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) separately.
Beaches along the NEC are important nesting grounds for the leatherback. Data gathered by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources indicates an average of 213 leatherback nests are reported annually. Puerto Rico beaches cumulatively hosted between 469 and 882 leatherback nests each year between 2000 and 2005. The leatherback turtle population in the North Atlantic Ocean is estimated at 34,000 to 94,000 adult leatherbacks.
Critical habitat for the leatherback will be fully assessed when the Service and the NMFS conduct the future planned status review for the leatherback. Following five-year reviews for sea turtle species in 2007, the agencies decided to complete an analysis and review for five of the federally listed sea turtles to determine the application of the distinct population segment policy. The recommended status reviews will be conducted in the following order: (1) loggerhead sea turtle, (2) green sea turtle, (3) olive ridley sea turtle, (4) leatherback sea turtle, and (5) hawksbill sea turtle. The leatherback was selected as one of the last species to receive a full status review because it is listed as endangered worldwide and receives full protection under the ESA.
More information about this finding, including today's Federal Register notice, can be found at www.fws.gov/Caribbean/tinglar.html, www. regulations.gov, or at www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/. Refer to FWS-R4-ES-2011-0045. Supporting information used in completing this combined finding is available for public inspection, by appointment during normal business hours, at the Caribbean Ecological Services Office (CESO) located in Boqueron, Puerto Rico, and the North Florida Ecological Services Field Office (NFESO) located in Jacksonville, Florida. To make an appointment to visit the CESO office, please call 787-851-7297, ext. 212, or 787-505-4397. To contact the NFESO, please call 904-731-3336; facsimile 904-731-3045; or e-mail northflorida @fws.gov.
Please submit any new information, comments, or questions concerning this finding to Dave Hankla, Field Supervisor, North Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200, Jacksonville, Florida 32256, ATTN: Leatherback CH Review. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339.
Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve. It has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits. It is a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Please visit http://www.fws.gov/southeast/ or http://www.fws.gov/.
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