Effort seeks to protect sea turtlesPublished 7:13pm Monday, March 25, 2013
By MIKE VOSS
Washington Daily News
Several nesting beaches for loggerhead sea turtles along the North Carolina coast have been preliminary identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as important habitats for the recovery of the species.
The Endangered Species Act requires the agency to identify potential habitats for the recovery of the species.
The agency has preliminarily identified areas of island and mainland coastal beaches in six states to propose as critical habitat. It is seeking public comment on the proposed critical habitat areas, which 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, according to the agency.
“The habitats that have been identified are those with the highest amount of density of nesting occurrences. We’ve got a lot of turtles that are using those specific geographical areas. We’ve also identified areas adjacent to those areas because the coastline is somewhat living. So, it can shift from year to year. We want to give them some room for expansion because they will shift down the beach if erosion occurs to find suitable habitat,” said agency spokesman Chuck Underwood on Monday.
Underwood said the ongoing identification process helps the agency “focus our conservation efforts in those areas most important to the long-term conservation of the turtles.”
Underwood said a decision in the matter likely would come in a year to 18 months. As part of the process, a draft analysis of the proposal’s economic impact is required, he noted.
“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 agency’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 nonfederal 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, nongovernmental 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.
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 agency is seeking information and comments from all stakeholders and the general public.
For more information, including how to submit written comments about the proposed rule, visit www.fws.gov.