The Service is Listening
Public involvement underway for the proposal to designate critical habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle-NW Atlantic Ocean.
By Lilibeth Serrano, USFWS, Public Affairs Specialist
Communities in South Carolina and North
Carolina requested to speak to the Service in person about the proposed designation of critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle beaches within the NW Atlantic Ocean. The proposal published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2013, and a draft economic analysis was also published in the Federal Register.
About 45 people attended the first meeting in Charleston, South Carolina; 75 to 80 people attended the meetingin Wilmington, North Carolina and over 100 people participated in Morehead City, NC. During the formal portion of the hearings, about 56 people spoke. An overwhelming majority expressed opposition along with a strong belief that the proposed rule is about the Federal government control of the beaches; managing turtle nests and prohibiting beach maintenance, construction and recreational uses. The sentiment escalated to considerations of a snowball effect with negative impacts to the local tourism industry, local economy and overall way of life for these coastal communities.
An open house preceded the formal public hearings and gave the Service an opportunity to engage one-on-one with the public to address individual questions about the proposed terrestrial critical habitat designation and associated draft economic analysis. Local media outlets covered the event and gave the Service opportunity to explain that critical habitat is a law making process that affects our administrative procedures and doesn’t plan, or even open the door for the Service to implement any concrete actions on the beaches. We also expressed appreciation for the conservation work conducted by local and state governments, and volunteer groups and clarified that we do not have the resources or the intention of interfering or changing their delivery of nest management and conservation actions. For many years local groups have proven to be effective at engaging the public in hands-on conservation and increasing the success rate of turtle reproduction in North Carolina beaches.
A Final Rule that will modify, cancel or adopt the proposal is slatted for June 2014 and will include responces to the comments we receive during the public hearings and comment period that ends on September 16, 2013.
Between public hearings, some members of the Service team had the opportunity to visit loggerhead sea turtle habitat. In New Hanover County, some Service staff visited Carolina Beach late at night, hoping to see a nest that was
expected to hatch. The sea turtle hatchlings did not emerge from the sand that night, maybe they weren't ready to follow the starts and hit the waters just jet but as we waited, we enjoyed listening to the volunteers share their passion for conservation and witnessing visitors of all ages gather near the nest full of anticipation.
In Jacksonville, NC we meet with staff from the Environmental Conservation Branch at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Camp Lejeune staff showed us one of two nest they discovered that morning at Onslow Beach. Camp Lejeune staff showed us the fresh female tracks on the sand that led to discovering the nest. They logged the nest location and other information into their records. The nest was also marked and a cage was placed over it to protect the eggs from natural predators. Early beach patrols ensure that new nests are discovered before vehicles start driving on the beaches. Biology technicians also relocate the nests they find in the Marine’s training area to a different strip of beach. Relocating nests allows Marines to train with their amphibian vehicles without damaging the natural habitat at the base, a delicate balance that is well worth the extra effort.