FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Service Identifies Coastal Beach Habitat Important for the Recovery of Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has begun the process of identifying coastal beach habitat important for the recovery of the threatened Northwest Atlantic Ocean population of loggerhead sea turtles, as directed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency has preliminarily identified portions of island and mainland coastal beaches in six states to propose as critical habitat, and is seeking public comment on the proposed rule.
The proposed critical habitat areas include 90 nesting beaches in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The proposed areas incorporate about 740 beach shoreline miles and account for approximately 84 percent of the documented nesting (numbers of nests) within these six states.
Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Because turtles are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, today’s proposal is expected to have a negligible impact on individuals’ beach use and access. Critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved.
“Coastal beaches of the United States offer residents and visitors a wide array of commercial, residential and recreational opportunities. They also are home to a vast number of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, and in the case of the loggerhead sea turtle, provide vital nesting habitat,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “Identifying this habitat will help us work with coastal communities to protect loggerhead nests and ensure that more hatchlings reach the water and begin their lives at sea.”
Designating critical habitat on federal or non-federal lands informs landowners and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species. Identifying this habitat also helps focus the conservation efforts of other conservation partners, such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals.
“Through this action, we are taking a step to draw attention to important habitats needed to support the recovery of this magnificent species,” said Dohner.
Under the ESA, critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a listed species. Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the ESA by requiring federal agencies to consult with the Service on federal actions that may affect critical habitat and by prohibiting federal agencies from carrying out, funding or authorizing the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
Primary threats to the turtles include artificial lighting, beach erosion (including as a result of natural disasters such as hurricanes) and climate change. In the southeastern U.S., nest protection efforts and beach habitat protection are underway for loggerhead nesting areas, and progress has been made in reducing mortality rates. Many coastal counties and communities have developed lighting ordinances to reduce loggerhead sea turtle hatchling disorientation.
To ensure that the final critical habitat designation is based on the best scientific data available, and is as accurate and effective as possible, the Service is seeking information and comments from all stakeholders and the general public.
The Service and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) share jurisdiction for loggerhead sea turtles listed under the ESA. The loggerhead sea turtle was originally listed worldwide under the ESA as a threatened species on July 28, 1978. On September 22, 2011, the Service and NMFS revised the loggerhead’s listing from a single worldwide threatened species to nine distinct population segments (DPS) — protected as either endangered or threatened species — to help focus the specific needs for sea turtle conservation. At that time, the Service and NMFS lacked the comprehensive data and information necessary to identify and describe physical and biological features of the terrestrial and marine habitats of the loggerhead and found critical habitat to be “not determinable.”
Since then, Service biologists completed reviews of updated data, recently published journal reports and other information and identified the key terrestrial features and elements necessary to pursue a process for selecting areas to propose as critical habitat.
NMFS is reviewing specific areas in the marine environment as potential critical habitat for the DPS and, consistent with their distinct authority, may propose to designate such areas in a separate rulemaking.
Written comments and information concerning the proposal can be submitted by one of the following methods:
The proposed rule publishes in the Federal Register on March 25, 2013. The Service invites citizens and organizations to provide comments on the proposal on or before May 24, 2013. The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.
To download a copy of the proposed rule and learn more about loggerhead conservation, please visit http://www.fws.gov/northflorida. The Service is preparing a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat that will be released for public review and comment at a later date, prior to any final action on this proposal.
The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife, and plants. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.
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. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. 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.