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Speed limit set to protect North Atlantic right whales

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Lower speeds reduce deaths from collisions by 80 to 90 percent

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may have a little better chance of avoiding deadly collisions with ships, as the National Marine Fisheries Service this week set a permanent speed limit for large ships. Under the rule, ships longer than 65 feet have to slow to 10 knots (about 11 mph) when they’re around whales.

“This is really great news for Atlantic right whales and will help put this magnificent species on the road to recovery,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Speed limits for large ships are a simple and effective way to avoid deadly collisions that have been a significant threat to these whales’ survival.” Continue reading

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Feds see more threats to Caribbean corals

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Elkhorn corals in the Caribbean are feeling the heat of global warming. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Fisheries Service gets deadline for recovery plan under court settlement

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Two key coral species around Florida need even more TLC than previously thought, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which wants to reclassify elkhorn and staghorn corals from “threatened” to the even more serious category of “endangered” because of their rapid decline.

The agency also agree to speed up finalization of a recovery plan under a court settlement that sets a 2014 deadline. These corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification but, before today’s settlement agreement, had still not received the legally required recovery plan needed to save them from extinction. Continue reading

Feds issue emergency rules to protect sperm whales

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Activists seek to halt drift gillnet fishing altogether

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials this week enacted emergency regulations to try and protect Pacific Ocean sperm whale population from California’s drift gillnet fishery, which has been killing non-commercial fish and marine mammals at an alarming rate.

The practice of setting miles of floating nets may be one of the cheapest ways to fish for commercial species, but it’s also one of the most destructive to marine resources. Recent fishery observer data indicates that, for every two swordfish the fishery catches to sell, on average one blue shark, 15 ocean sunfish, and a long list of other fish are thrown overboard dead or injured.

The new regulations issues by the National Marine Fisheries Service will shut down California’s drift gillnet fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is caught dead or injured. Continue reading

Puget Sound orcas keep ESA protection

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Puget Sound‘s orcas need Endangered Species Act protection. Photo courtesy NOAA/NMFS.

Feds reject argument by ultra- conservative property rights group

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A tiny population of threatened killer whales in Puget Sound will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service this week rejected a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which had challenged the population’s status.

The fringe property rights advocacy group claimed, based in invalid science, that the Puget Sound  “southern resident” killer whales are not a distinct population. In response, the federal government conducted a year-long review of the status and eligibility of the orcas for Endangered Species Act protection and confirmed that the whale’s endangered listing remains warranted. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose critical habitat designations in marine areas for endangered loggerhead sea turtles

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Proposal would protect some breeding areas and migration routes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with proposed critical habitat protection for nesting areas, loggerhead sea turtles may also get some open-ocean sanctuaries, including nearshore reproductive habitat, breeding areas, and migratory corridors.

The National Marine Fisheries Service this week proposed critical habitat designation for 36 occupied marine areas for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean population of loggerheads, and may consider additional areas with foraging habitat, as well as  two large areas that contain Sargassum habitat. The proposed areas span waters off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. See the full proposal here. Continue reading

California gillnet fishery eyed as threat to whales

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Spem whale photo by Tim Cole, National Marine Fisheries Service.

Endangered whales perishing in mile-long nets

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — California’s drift gillnet fishery may be classified as one of the most deadly to marine mammals, the National Marine Fisheries Service said this week, announcing its proposed list of fisheries classifications in the Federal Register as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

According to federal biologists, more than three sperm whales die inadvertently each year after being entangled in the drifting nets along with other non-target species like sharks, turtles, dolphins and sea lions. The loss of sperm whales isn’t sustainable considering the small overall population, according to the proposed listing. Continue reading

Feds eye critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles

More than 700 miles of beaches included in USFWS proposal

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Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo via NOAA, courtesy  Marco Giuliano/Fondazion Cetacea.

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A long swath of Florida’s Gulf Coast has been proposed as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists have proposed protecting hundreds of miles of U.S. shoreline from North Carolina to Mississippi to protect critical nesting habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.

Florida beaches could be especially crucial to the survival of the species, with the most recent science showing that the state harbors one of only two global loggerhead aggregations with more than 10,000 nesting females nesting per year. The other is on Masirah Island, Oman.

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 in these six states. Continue reading

Can a high-tech navy coexist with marine mammals?

Federal biologists propose new rule to guide naval training

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In a preliminary assessment, federal biologists said the mid-frequency sound generated by active sonar, the sound and pressure generated by detonating explosives and other activities associated with naval exercises aren’t likely to have a significant impact on protected marine species.

Nevertheless, the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a new rule to minimize impacts from naval training activities, including mitigation zones and observers trained to spot marine life during exercises.

The rule also calls for implementing a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown provision in certain circumstances, and allows for the Navy to contribute in-kind services to NOAA’s Fisheries Service if the agency has to conduct a stranding response and investigation. It would also designate a humpback whale cautionary area to protect high concentrations of humpback whales around Hawaii during winter months.

Those steps don’t go far enough protect marine life, said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Many whales and other marine mammals, like Hawaiian monk seals, are already struggling for survival. Now the Navy’s going to intensify war games in their habitat?” Sakashita said. We’re learning more and more about the tragic effects of sonar on whales and dolphins, yet the Navy’s being given carte blanche to blast the oceans with it and harm animals over and over again,” she added. Continue reading

Groups want critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

A loggerhead sea turtle off the coast of New England. Photo courtesy NOAA/Matthew Weeks.

Lawsuit filed to speed up designation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Gill net fishing in Mexico and coastal development in Florida is driving loggerhead sea turtles to the brink of extinction, according to conservation groups, who filed a lawsuit this week to try and get better protection for the turtles’s critical habitat.

The groups acknowledge that conservation efforts in Florida have helped populations recover, but insist that the overall long-term threats require greater protection. The number of loggerhead sea turtles nesting along Florida beaches has grown in recent years, but these numbers have varied significantly over the past two decades.

North Pacific loggerheads, which nest in Japan and cross the Pacific to feed along the coasts of Southern California and Mexico, have declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade and were recently reclassified from threatened to endangered. It has been estimated that more than 1,000 loggerheads die each year as a result of gillnet fishing in Mexico, with more than 400 washing ashore dead last summer. Continue reading

Oceans: Feds to consider de-listing Puget Sound orcas

The National Marine Fisheries Service will consider a petition to de-list Puget Sound orcas. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Right-wing property rights group files nuisance petition

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — An anti-environmental property rights groups has successfully petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to reconsider its Endangered Species Act listing for Puget Sound’s resident orcas, more formally known as southern resident killer whales.

Puget Sound orcas have had endangered status since 2005, when federal biologists listed them due to threats from pollution, habitat destruction and over-collection by the marine aquarium industry. Puget Sound orcas are one of a few populations to feed extensively on salmon; they have a unique dialect; and previous studies have shown they are genetically unique. Continue reading

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