Feds protect sea turtles with largest ever critical habitat ruling

The new designations will help wildlife officials pick key spots to focus their ongoing sea turtle conservation efforts.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 10, 2014 at 12:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. federal government set a record yesterday, as wildlife officials designated an additional 685 miles of nesting beach and some 300,000 square miles of ocean as critical habitat for the federally protected loggerhead sea turtle -- the largest such declaration in history.

The newly protected nesting areas include various stretches of beach from Mississippi all the way to North Carolina. Florida, which already sets the bar for sea turtle conservation, sees a few of its protected beaches expanded but no new protected beaches established. The ruling, however, protects several hundred miles of new coastline in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

"This critical habitat designation is essential for the future survival and recovery of sea turtles in the U.S. and will ensure that populations are more resilient," said Amanda Keledjian, a scientist with the marine advocacy group Oceana.

Though the new protections for the loggerhead, endangered since 1978, are monumental in size, federal officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- the two agencies jointly responsible for yesterday's ruling -- hope that beachgoers and recreation enthusiasts will hardly recognize the change.

"The public won't even notice it," said Chuck Underwood, an FWS public information officer. Underwood said it won't affect public access to beaches or recreational opportunities.

Mostly, the designations will help wildlife officials pick key spots to focus their ongoing conservation efforts, such as keeping lights (from dusk to dawn), pollution, and manmade debris to a minimum.

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