Fish and Wildlife Service Reopens Public Comment Period on Spring Pygmy Sunfish Critical Habitat Designation
Spring Pygmy Sunfish
Conservation Fisheries Inc
Februray 4, 2014
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the comment period until March 7, 2014, on the proposal to designate critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish, a spring-associated species that is federally listed as threatened and lives only in Limestone County, Alabama.
Reopening the comment period will allow the public an opportunity to offer input on the potential exclusion of lands covered by two new Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, as well as one previously established agreement, from critical habitat designation. The two new agreements were established in November 2013, just prior to the sunfish receiving Threatened status. The third agreement was established in June 2012.
Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances are formal agreements between the Service and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of a species before it becomes listed as Endangered or Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They provide participating non-federal property owners with a permit containing assurances that if they engage in certain conservation actions for species included in the agreement, they will not be required to implement additional conservation measures beyond those in the agreement if the species is ever listed, as in this case with the spring pygmy sunfish.
The two new Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances are identified as Horton Farm and McDonald Farm. A third previously established agreement is with Belle Mina Farms, Ltd. The Land Trust of North Alabama is a cooperating partner in all three agreements. Conservation measures in these agreements are similar and provide important protection benefits to the spring pygmy sunfish.
Despite the beneficial effects of the conservation measures in the three agreements, threats from outside the area covered by them, particularly a planned large-scale development, potentially affect the species and warranted its listing as Threatened under the ESA. The final rule listing the species published in the Federal Register on October 2, 2013, and became effective on December 2, 2013. The threats include water pollution, increased groundwater and surface water usage, and excessive storm-water runoff containing pesticides, herbicides, and suspended sediment.
Service biologists identified two areas of critical habitat that contain habitat essential to the conservation of the spring pygmy sunfish. The proposed critical habitat encompasses approximately eight stream miles and 1,549 acres of spring-pool and spring-influenced wetlands. One of the areas is within the Beaverdam Spring/Creek system which is currently occupied by the sunfish. Lands encompassed in all three agreements are located within, or in proximity to, this area. The second area, the Pryor Spring/Branch watershed, which was historically occupied by this sunfish, serves as a potential site for reintroductions.
To review the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances; the proposal to designate critical habitat, including a slight revision to the proposed designation in our April 29, 2013 notice; and the final rule listing the spring pygmy sunfish as threatened, go to the Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office’s website at: http://www.fws.gov/mississippiES/SpringPygmySunfish.html
The Service is requesting public input on the benefits of excluding Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances’ lands from, or keeping the agreement lands included in, the proposed critical habitat designation (under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA). Comments will also be accepted on any other aspect of the proposed critical habitat designation. Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering FWS-R4-ES-2013-0010 in the search box and then clicking on “Comment Now”; or via mail or hand delivery to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service , Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2013-0010, Division of Policy and Directives Management, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA, 22203.
The Service requests comments only by the methods described above. The Service will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that the Service will post any personal information you provide. Comments previously submitted on the proposed critical habitat designation will be fully considered in preparation of the final rule and do not need to be resubmitted. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on March 7, 2014.
All relevant information received during the open comment period from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the Service’s final critical habitat determination for the spring pygmy sunfish.
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. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast
NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY AND REQUEST FOR COMMENTS:
Environmental Assessment for Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Proposed Conservation Actions Restoring and Managing Longleaf Pine Ecosystems in Georgia and Alabama.
January 21, 2014
SUMMARY:We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Ecological Services Field Offices of Alabama and Georgia, announce the availability for public review and comment a programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA) for proposed conservation actions restoring and managing longleaf pine ecosystems in Georgia and Alabama. The EA describes selection criteria and a suite of habitat restoration practices, with associated conservation measures, that we propose for Partners projects in Alabama and Georgia to benefit the gopher tortoise. Under this program, we would seek landowners with properties that are near existing populations of gopher tortoises and could support this species who are willing to implement the restoration practices, with Service financial and technical assistance, for a minimum of 20 years. We believe that our proposed program would result in population increases for gopher tortoises, tortoise-commensal species, and other species associated with longleaf pine forests.
DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by February 21, 2014.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, or requests for copies or more information, by any of the following methods. You may request a hard copy or a CD-ROM of the document.
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include “Longleaf Pine Program EA” in the subject line of the message.
• Fax: Attn: Shannon Holbrook, 251-441-6222.
• U.S. Mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, AL 36526.
• In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: call 251-441-5871 to make an appointment (necessary for view/pickup only) during regular business hours at 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, AL 36526 or 706-613-9493 to make an appointment (necessary for view/pickup only) during regular business hours at 105 Westpark Drive, Westpark Center , Suite D, Athens, GA 30606
PUBLIC AVAILABILITY OF DOCUMENTS: In addition to requesting a copy of the EA by any of the methods in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain the EA at our web sites:
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Holbrook, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 251-441-5871; Shannon_holbrook@fws.gov
HELP PROTECT SHOREBIRDS ON THE GULF COAST
LOCAL SHOREBIRD STEWARD VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR COASTAL ALABAMA AND MISSISSIPPI- MAY through AUGUST 2014
The parents of these 1-day old Wilson's Plover chicks will defend
the area around the chicks until they fledge, typically within 33-35 days.
Photo by Margo Zdravkovic
January 21, 2014
By Coastal Bird Conservation
Coastal Bird Conservation/CONSERVIAN is seeking local Shorebird Steward Volunteers for statewide monitoring of beach-nesting birds on the Alabama and Mississippi coast. Work will begin in May and continue through early August. The focus of the work is monitoring and protecting beach-nesting bird breeding pairs, nests, and young, including Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and other colonial nesting species. Stewards will work cooperatively with CBC field staff as part of a team. Monitored sites will include but are not limited to Bon Secour NWR, Pelican Island, Gulf State Park, the Mississippi Gulf Islands, and Deer Island. Stewards will report to and assist CBC field staff with monitoring of beach-nesting birds, posting and signing of nesting areas, interacting with partner site managers, and the beach-going public. The goal of this project is to build a long-term local network of dedicated volunteer shorebird stewards in Alabama and Mississippi to assist Conservian’s field staff to increase shorebird numbers and habitat quality. All shorebird monitoring is conducted on foot. Boats are used to access some sites.
Qualifications: Volunteer Stewards must be responsible, in good physical condition, like working in teams, and be able to walk several miles in summer temperatures in coastal Alabama and Mississippi. Stewards that would like to participate in monitoring on island sites should be comfortable riding in small boats. Shorebird experience is not required, only enthusiasm. An excellent opportunity to learn about breeding shorebirds, and help to stabilize and restore their populations. Applicants must be at least 18 years old. Send email of interest and availability to Margo Zdravkovic, CBC Director at MargoZ@Coastalbird.org.
Conservian will provide training and supervision. Hours are flexible. Binoculars and scopes will be provided as needed. Conservian is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving coastal birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. Every volunteer hour contributed provides required inkind match for our grant awarded under the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Power of Flight program. All regular volunteers will receive the CBC logo patch below.
Go to https://www.facebook.com/CoastalBirdConservation on Facebook for more information on Conservian’s work on the Gulf Coast.
Researchers Need Help Finding Manatee in Orange Beach
This manatee is in poor condition due to cold stress.
Photo by Dolly Lee
January 10, 2014
By Lisa Young - Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Researchers with Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL’s MSN) are asking for the public’s help in locating a manatee recently sighted in Orange Beach, AL. The manatee was seen at the Orange Beach Marina at approximately 8:40 am on January 10, 2014. Anyone who sees a manatee in the area is asked to immediately call the Manatee Sighting Network’s 24-hour, toll-free hotline 1-866-493-5803.
During winter months, manatees need to move to warm water refuges in Florida as temperatures become too cold in the north Gulf of Mexico. Manatees that remain in waters below 68°F for prolonged periods of time risk fatality due to cold stress. Water temperatures in Orange Beach are currently reported as 63°F. Any manatees still residing in the northern Gulf are in potential need of rescue.
MSN relies on the public to report manatee sightings in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Report sightings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone (1-866-493-5803), email (email@example.com), or online (manatee.disl.org).
DISL’s MSN is the only formal manatee sighting network in the U.S. that is dedicated to receiving and mapping every manatee sighting from western Florida through Mississippi. MSN’s research focuses on increasing understanding of the life history of the endangered West Indian manatee, providing quality data to guide future management, conservation, and research on manatees and their habitat.
For more tips on spotting manatees, check out the following site: Florida Manatee sighting Guidance and Key Points
2013 "Insert Blitz" Improves Woodpecker Habitat
Chrystal Tindell, Talladega National Forest,
installing artificial cavity on Enon Plantation
December 9, 2013
By Eric Spadgenske
The Alabama Ecological Services Field Office, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Alabama Forest Resources Center, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Southern Company, Conservation Southeast, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, recently held the 7th Annual Insert Blitz at historic Enon and Sehoy Plantations in Bullock County, Alabama.
A total of 41 artificial cavities were installed to provide habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). These cavities were installed in just 2 days by highly skilled sawyers from Talladega National Forest and Conservation Southeast. Hundreds of midstory trees and shrubs were also removed during the two-day blitz, vastly improving habitat for the woodpeckers.
Managers continue to be amazed with the success of this restoration project. Starting in 2007 with just three active clusters (distinct areas occupied by birds), the RCW population on Enon and Sehoy has expanded to 30 active clusters. Highlights for the 2013 season include discovery of the second naturally budded cluster, where the birds moved into new habitat without the assistance of biologists; and the successful fledging of 40 new juvenile RCWs this spring.
Without the full support and cooperation of the private landowners, this project would never have gotten underway or achieved the success that it has over the past decade. This collaboration is a true southern conservation success story!
Service and its Partners Remove Another Dam in Greater Birmingham Area, Improves Aquatic Habitat
Goodwin's Mill Dam in Springville, AL.
Photo by Eric Spadgenske
November 22, 2013
Big Canoe Creek is home to some of America’s rarest aquatic species. This week, a project sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will dramatically improve water quality and habitat of the creek, giving those imperiled species a better chance at recovery.
The Service joined its partners in removing the Goodwin’s Mill Dam from Big Canoe Creek. The dam was constructed in the early 1900’s to impound the waters of Big Canoe Creek to power a grist mill. That mill was abandoned in the 1930’s, but the dam has continued to impound the water and create a fish passage barrier. “Recent surveys show a dramatic disparity in fish species diversity above and below the dam, highlighting the dam’s impact on water quality and habitat suitability. In addition to blocking movement of fish, dams create deep pools that can fill with sediment, reduce oxygen levels and raise the temperature of the water,” explains Service biologist Eric Spadgenske.
The removal of Goodwin’s Mill Dam was one of the first projects identified by the Alabama Field Office’s Strategic Habitat Unit (SHU) Initiative. The SHU initiative is a strategic way biologists look at rivers and streams in an effort to keep them in good condition for both fish and wildlife, and humans.
Removal of this dam will not only restore fish passage. It will also benefit at least two federally protected mussels: the southern clubshell (Pleurobema decisum) and the triangular kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus greenii). In addition, this restoration effort will also benefit two species recently petitioned for federal listing, the Canoe Creek Clubshell (Pleurobema athearni), and a fish species called the Trispot Darter (Etheostoma trisella). “Big Canoe Creek is a hot spot for aquatic species and is one of our target areas for restoration. Many people may not realize that it has also been designated as Critical Habitat for several federally listed mussels,” explains Service Biologist Jeff Powell.
The Nature Conservancy of Alabama has played a pivotal role in the project. “It is a real pleasure to collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, partners and private landowners to improve conditions for the people along the creek and the critters living in it. The Service brings highly skilled staff to the project that makes this a low-cost project with high returns. Many folks have pitched in to make these restoration efforts come together quickly and efficiently” said Paul Freeman, Aquatic Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.
The removal and restoration team.
Photo by Frank Chitwood
Doug Morrison, President of Friends of Big Canoe Creek, is anxious to see the manmade barrier being removed, allowing the creek to return to its natural state. “I have seen how the water diverted by this dam creates a hazard for canoeists and destroys the stream banks during high flows. Removing the dam will allow safe passage for people as well as the fish. I am looking forward to seeing this creek free flowing once again, as nature intended,” says Morrison. “There is also a safety concern as kids have been seen trying to deconstruct it, prying huge rocks loose and it is already unraveling on its own,” reiterates Morrison.
The removal of the Goodwin’s Mill dam would not be possible without our team of partners and stakeholders, including the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Geological Survey of Alabama, The Nature Conservancy, the Coosa Riverkeeper, Friends of Big Canoe Creek, and most importantly, the private landowners who have embraced the project. Adjacent landowner Barbara Lovell states “After owning the property for over 28 years I am thrilled to see the water flowing where it should be naturally. When the end of the dam fell apart a few years ago, the water started shooting through the gap like a rocket. I am tired of losing my property due to the erosion”.
The Service’s Fisheries Program and Heavy Equipment Operator Team will dismantle the dam over the course of several days, and repair downstream banks to prevent erosion. The Southeast Regional Endangered Species Listing Office also played a role in the project. Next steps include continuing to monitor the habitat conditions in the creek and the response of the fish and mussel communities. You can follow our progress on the Service’s Alabama Field Office Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/usfwsalabama
November is Manatee Awareness Month
This deceased manatee displays starvation skin
folds onits belly and a cold stress sore on the tail.
Photo by Dianne Ingram
November 14, 2013
November is Manatee Awareness Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Alabama’s official state marine mammal. November is the time of year when manatees begin the seasonal migration to warmer waters for refuge during the cold winter months. Manatees are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and listed as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act; cold weather means manatees are at greater risk of stranding.
Researchers with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Mobile Manatees Sighting Network (MMSN) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office are closely monitoring the movements of manatees in Alabama and Mississippi. Most manatees begin their migration when water temperatures drop below 68°F. Manatees begin to experience a condition called cold stress, similar to frost bite in humans, at prolonged exposure to water temperatures less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Typically manatee sighting reports west of Florida drop off in October each year, however, this year, several manatees were reported through the first week of November from locations in Alabama such as: Mobile Bay, Mobile Bay-Tensaw Delta, Dog River, Fairhope; and Pascagoula River, MS. We hope these animals will begin their migration east to warmer waters in Florida soon.
Report any manatee sightings or strandings in our area, especially during winter, to Dauphin Island’s Manatee Sighting Network on-line at manatee.disl.org, or call toll free 1-866-493-5803, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Mobile Manatees Sighting Network contributed to this article.
Essential Habitat Reopening for the Endangered Fish, Vermilion Darter
Photo by Eric Spadgenske
October 29, 2013
Birmingham, AL — The vermilion darter only lives in one place in the world, and today a project was announced by the Freshwater Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will radically improve its habitat.
The project will include the deconstruction and removal of a dam on Freshwater Land Trust owned property and restoring the area through bank reconstruction and the replanting native vegetation. The dam was built in the early 1920s to create a fishing and swimming hole, but has now filled with sediment and is preventing the darter and other aquatic species from migrating upstream and occupying a half-mile of their natural range. Since the highly vulnerable darter is endemic to only seven miles of Turkey Creek, opening this portion of its habitat will add significant impact to the darter’s ability to survive by increasing its range.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funding the project through its Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, a program that offers assistance to private landowners for habitat restoration. Partners coordinator Eric Spadgenske says the dam constitutes a real threat to the darter. “The preferred habitat for the vermilion darter is clear, fast-moving water over clean, rocky substrates,” explained Spadgenske. “This dam not only creates a physical barrier to movement for fish and other aquatic species, it alters the habitat both upstream and downstream, making it unsuitable for these sensitive species.”
After working for more than ten years to conserve land in the Upper Turkey Creek Watershed to protect important aquatic habitats, the Freshwater Land Trust is excited to begin deconstructing the dam. Wendy Jackson, Freshwater Land Trust’s Executive Director, said, “We are thrilled that after years of planning and working towards this goal, we are finally removing this 85 foot wide, 6 foot tall concrete structure that is an impossible obstacle for the 2 inch long vermilion darter and countless other aquatic species. By helping restore and enhance this important stretch of creek, we will expand the darter’s habitat and all other fish and wildlife that call Turkey Creek home. This is a legacy we will be proud to pass to our children’s children.”
Download Full Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Endangered Status for the Northern Long-eared Bat; Listing Not Warranted for Eastern Small-footed Bat
Northern long-eared bat with visible symptoms of White Nose Syndrome.
Photo by Steve Taylor - University of Illinois
Georgia Parham 812-334-4261 x 1203
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Service also determined that the eastern small-footed bat does not warrant listing.
The northern long-eared bat is found across much of the eastern and north central United States, and all Canadian provinces from the Atlantic Ocean west to the southern Yukon Territory and eastern British Columbia.
The Service’s proposal opens a 60-day public comment period on the proposal to protect the northern long-eared bat as endangered. Over the next 12 months, the Service will evaluate information provided during the comment period to make a final decision on listing the species. The proposal appeared in the October 2, 2013, Federal Register.
The primary threat to the northern long-eared bat is a disease, white-nose syndrome, which has killed an estimated 5.5 million cave-hibernating bats in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Canada. Populations of the northern long-eared bat in the Northeast have declined by 99 percent since symptoms of white-nose syndrome were first observed in 2006.
White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease known to cause high mortality in bats that hibernate in caves. The fungus causing the disease thrives in low temperatures and high humidity – conditions commonly found in caves and mines where northern long-eared bats hibernate. While the eastern small-footed bat also hibernates in caves and mines, it has not shown the drastic decline at winter hibernacula compared with that experienced by the northern long-eared bat.
For more info and to submit comments click Here.
Service Proposes to List Red Knot as a Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species Act
Declining food supply and habitat are seen as threats for a remarkable shorebird that migrates thousands of miles each year
Photo by USFWS
September 27, 2013
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a proposal to list the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa), a robin-sized shorebird that annually migrates from the Canadian Arctic to southern Argentina, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed rule will be available for 60 days of public comment.
“The rufa red knot is an extraordinary bird that each year migrates thousands of miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America and back, but – like many shorebirds – it is vulnerable to climate and other environmental changes,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “In some areas, knot populations have declined by about 75 percent since the 1980s, with the steepest declines happening after 2000. We look forward to hearing from the public with any new scientific information as we consider the proposal.”
After an exhaustive scientific review of the species and its habitat, Service biologists determined that the knot meets the definition of threatened, meaning it is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The knot, whose range includes 25 countries and 40 U.S. states, uses spring and fall stopover areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Changing climate conditions are already affecting the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration and its breeding habitat in the Arctic. The shorebird also is losing areas along its range due to sea level rise, shoreline projects, and development.
A primary factor in the recent decline of the species was reduced food supplies in Delaware Bay due to commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs. In 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopted a management framework that explicitly ties horseshoe crab harvest levels along the Atlantic Coast to knot recovery targets. The Service’s analysis shows that although the horseshoe crab population has not yet fully rebounded, the framework should ensure no further threat to the knot from the crab harvest.
Read the rest of the story Here.
A Sentimental Journey: Migratory Birds in Alabama
AFO biologist Jeff Gleason looks for nesting beach birds.
Photo by Dianne Ingram
September 11, 2013
The Alabama Gulf Coast has always been an attractive destination for tourists and migratory birds alike. A bird migration represents a seasonal journey done by hundreds of species of birds twice every year with some birds traveling thousands of miles. Wintering birds migrate south while breeding birds migrate north. During both northbound and southbound migrations, as well as on key staging and stopover areas, birds select the optimal habitats available to meet seasonal energetic demands depending on their life-history strategy. However, the birds are constrained by weather, sex, age, individual energetic demands as well as human-induced impacts to their habitats.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) considers migratory birds and their habitats a trust resources worthy of conservation and protection; both species and their habitats. That’s why staff of the Alabama Ecological Services Field Office (AFO) are making some of these conservation priority species of birds a workload priority. In 2013, staff from the AFO participated in the North American Breeding Bird Survey, conducting surveys on 5 routes in Baldwin (2 routes) and Mobile (3 routes) Counties. Up to 105 survey routes may be completed annually in Alabama. In 2013, the AFO surveyed ~5% of all BBS routes available statewide.
Surveys are conducted along 24.5mi designated routes with points located every 0.5 mi along the route for a total of 50 points/route. All birds seen (out to 1/4mi) and heard (regardless of distance) are identified to species and enumerated during a 3 min interval at each stop. In addition to counting birds, we also counted the number of cars passing our points. Also, weather conditions (cloud cover, temperature, wind speeds) are also recorded and surveys are not conducted in rainy or windy conditions.
A participant has to be well-versed in the identification of bird songs and calls. Biologist Dianne Ingram is the AFO lead on migratory birds. “To participate in bird surveys, we need to be capable of identifying more than 150 species of breeding birds by sight and sound,” explains Ingram.
Read the rest of the story Here.
Turtles Ahoy! Alabamians Working to Make Beaches Safer for Nesting Sea Turtles
A sea turtle nest hatches in Orange Beach.
Photo by Skip Beebe
August 28, 2013
Throughout the years, Alabamians have embraced the thought of sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Starting each spring, Loggerheads, Kemp’s ridley’s, and occasionally green sea turtles swim to the shore, come on land, and lay their eggs beneath the sand. Most folks in Alabama take great pride in these sea turtle nests. They’ve become a part of our culture, and they are a draw for tourists who put money into the economy.
“I love coming to the beach and teaching my daughters about endangered sea turtles nesting in our area,” says Christie Cowart of Mobile.
Between May and November, Share the Beach volunteers actively search for sea turtle nests in Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and Dauphin Island, so they can mark the buried eggs with neon tape. The nests are also marked with a sign, indicating it is protected by the Endangered Species Act. It’s a way to keep humans away from the fragile nests.
“Our agency works closely with Share the Beach to protect these treasures of the Gulf Coast. It’s a good feeling to see more and more nests pop up on our beaches. It means we’re making progress,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dianne Ingram.
Humans tampered with this protected nest
Photo by USFWS
But recently, volunteers with Share the Beach have made some disheartening discoveries. They found clear evidence that humans have been tampering with a few of the nests. Several incidents occurred in Orange Beach. “It appears that a curious teenager decided to take a closer look at a nest,” explained Mike Reynolds, Director of Share the Beach. “The screen protecting the nest was raised by four inches. It looks like someone dug into the nest and covered it back up.”
Another prankster printed out a recipe of turtle soup, and tacked it onto a stake attached to a tarp set up by Share the Beach. Whether it’s in so called “good fun”, or it’s indeed malicious, disturbing a sea turtle nest is against the law. Penalties include a civil fine of up to $25,000 and a criminal fine of up to $100,000 for an individual and up to $200,000 for an organization. Individuals convicted of criminal offenses could also face up to a year in prison.
Nest-tampering isn’t the only problem facing this species. It seems female sea turtles are steadily running into road blocks in their attempts to nest. This year, volunteers have noted more evidence than usual that sea turtles have crawled between heavy wooden beach chairs, through rows of tents and dodged piles of debris all left out overnight by beach-goers. The evidence also shows most times the turtle went back into the water without nesting. For example, two times in early August, volunteers found two sea turtle crawls indicating beach chairs and umbrellas left out overnight prevented nesting. The crawls show that females were searching for a spot to nest when they ran into the furniture. The turtles apparently went back into the water without nesting. While so called “false crawls” can happen naturally, artificially lights, flashing cameras, presence of people on the beach at night, and obstructions also cause false crawls. For a federally threatened species such as the loggerhead sea turtle, any interruption to nesting is a concern for officials.
Beach equipment prevents nesting
Photo by USFWS
“It’s a real let-down when you see something like that happen,” says Ingram. “Something as simple as a beach chair left out overnight can prevent a protected species from nesting.”
But city officials in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach aren’t taking these issues lightly. They are working closely with the Service to improve efforts to educate the public on tampering, beach trash, lighting, and other things that may hinder a nesting sea turtle. Together, officials hope to come up with a pro-active strategy, so the beach can be turtle-ready for the next season. “City officials are onboard for helping these turtles. These creatures are an important part of our Alabama culture,” says Ingram.