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New Protected Areas for Loggerhead Turtles

By MarEx 2014-07-09 18:05:00

NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have announced two final rules to designate critical habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Atlantic Ocean and on coastal beach habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The NOAA-designated marine critical habitat includes some near shore reproductive areas directly off of nesting beaches from North Carolina through Mississippi, winter habitat in North Carolina, breeding habitat in Florida, constricted migratory corridors in North Carolina and Florida, and Sargassum habitat, which is home to the majority of juvenile turtles, in the western Gulf of Mexico and in U.S. waters within the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.

The USFWS-designated terrestrial critical habitat areas include 88 nesting beaches in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. These beaches account for 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles of coastal beach shoreline used by loggerheads, and about 84 percent of the documented numbers of nests, within these six states.

“Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA’s mission,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries.  “Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come.”

“The fate of more than just the loggerhead sea turtle rests on the health of Atlantic coastal environments,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “Coastal communities from North Carolina to Mississippi are also intrinsically tied to these shorelines and waters. By conserving the turtle and protecting its habitat, we are helping preserve not only this emblematic species, but also the way of life for millions of Americans.”

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in southeastern United States, nesting along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina and along the Gulf Coast. It is a long-lived, slow-growing species, vulnerable to various threats including alterations to beaches, vessel strikes and bycatch in fishing nets.