WASHINGTON (CN) – The home of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean loggerhead sea turtle has been listed as protected, in the largest designation of critical habitat ever, environmental groups say.
The turtle lives in the water and along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
The National Marine Fisheries Service designated 300,000 square miles of ocean as critical to the turtle’s survival, Thursday. The habitat consists of 38 marine areas, which include: Nearshore reproductive habitat, winter area, breeding areas, corridors for migration, and/or Sargassum (a certain kind of seaweed) habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 685 miles of nesting beaches as critical to the loggerhead population, in a separate action, Thursday. The number is just shy of encompassing 84 percent of all known loggerhead nesting areas, which was proposed for designation as critical habitat in March 2013.
The NMFS also considered protecting critical marine habitat for the North Pacific Ocean loggerhead population, but the critical areas identified are not within U.S. jurisdiction, the action stated.
Loggerhead sea turtles were listed as a threatened species worldwide in 1978, but no critical habitat was designated.
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service jointly revised the turtle’s listing from a single worldwide threatened species to nine distinct population segments (DPSs). Only two of the DPSs qualify for critical habitat designation because they are within U.S. jurisdiction. One is in the northwest Atlantic and the other is in the north Pacific, according to the action.
The Center for Biological Diversity registered two criticisms of the new action, in a related statement: The NMFS rule “only protects nearshore habitat for one mile off nesting beaches despite science showing the importance of habitat three miles from beaches for females and hatchlings. The rule also failed to identify critical habitat for the endangered North Pacific Ocean loggerhead, which is at risk due to Hawaii and California fisheries activities in areas overlapping with the loggerhead’s habitat.”
The designations are effective Aug. 11.
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