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.
The long-lived, slow-growing turtles use multiple habitats across entire ocean basins during their life cycle, encompassing terrestrial, inshore and estuarine, nearshore, and open ocean habitats.
Along with threats to their beach nesting areas, the biggest cause loggerhead decline in recent decades is from incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges. In some areas, including the Bahamas, Cuba, and Mexico) direct harvest is a serious and continuing threat to loggerhead recovery.
Conservation advocates who filed lawsuits to prompt the federal proposal said the plan is a step forward, but doesn’t go far enough to protect important areas, especially farther north along the U.S. Atlantic coast. The proposal also fails to protect feeding areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Loggerheads migrate thousands of miles, facing giant shrimp trawls, hundreds of plastic bags, speeding yachts, fishing lines and even oil rigs, all obstacles jeopardizing their ability to feed and swim to shore to lay eggs,” said Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist at Oceana. “Protecting turtles as they swim to their nesting and feeding areas is essential for rebuilding populations. NMFS is required by law to protect areas that threatened and endangered species need to not only survive, but recover to levels where they no longer need the safety net of the ESA,” Keledjian said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed critical habitat protection for loggerheads on land in March, covering 739 square miles of nesting beaches — 84 percent of all known nesting areas — along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Identifying marine habitat can be more challenging, however, as many important conditions such as water temperature and prey availability, change over time. Protected habitat areas for these turtles must be finalized by July 1, 2014, according to the terms of a settlement agreement.
“Whether they’re on sea or land, sea turtles face a cascade of threats — oil spills, plastic pollution, prey depletion, and drowning in fishing nets, among others,” said Catherine Kilduff, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision comes at a crucial moment. In recent years nesting numbers have fluctuated greatly — we have to ensure those baby hatchlings return from their ocean journeys to nest.”
In addition to providing protections to threatened and endangered wildlife, protecting critical habitat areas raises awareness about important sea turtle habitats and requires that federal activities, including any requiring a federal permit, be reviewed before approval to ensure there are no potentially harmful impacts to loggerhead sea turtles’ survival and recovery.
Click here for more information about loggerhead populations.