WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed expanding the endangered Hawaiian monk seal’s critical habitat.
The proposal would augment the designation from the 20-meter depth contour around several Hawaiian Islands to a depth contour of 20 meters. It would also include beach areas on Sand Island at Midway and surrounding ocean waters to the 500-meter depth marker.
After new scientific studies came to light showing that the monk seals look for food at greater depth than previously thought, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Ocean Conservancy petitioned to expand the monk seal habitat in 2008.
The proposed designation excludes several military facilities and operational areas including the Kingfisher Underwater Training area off the northeast coast of Niihau; the Pacific Missile Range Facility main base and offshore areas at Kauai; and the Shallow Water Minefield Sonar Training Range outside Pearl Harbor.
The Hawaiian monk seal was listed as endangered in 1976, and the critical habitat was designated 10 years later over all beach areas where the seals congregated and bred, as well as ocean waters to a depth of 20 meters.
The agency will accept public comments on the proposed rule until Aug. 31, 2011.
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