The entire coastline of Palm Beach County and the upper portion of Broward County would be designated critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle under a proposal announced Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The service has proposed the protection of more than 739 miles of nesting beaches for the threatened species, stretching from North Carolina around to the Gulf coast beaches of Mississippi. The Broward segment would run from the Hillsboro Inlet north to the county line.
The designation of critical habitat does not mean that construction or other activities would be prohibited on these beaches. But it would require federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before issuing permits, funding projects or taking any other actions that could affect these beaches. This could include beach renourishment projects or coastal construction.
"Identifying this habitat will help us work with coastal communities to protect loggerhead nests and ensure that more hatchlings reach the water and begin their lives at sea," Cindy Dohner, the service's southeast regional director, said in a statement.
The announcement comes after a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and Turtle Island Restoration Network to force the service to designate critical habitat.
"The Southeast's nesting loggerheads swim thousands of miles through an obstacle course of human-made hazards," said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a written statement. "Protected beach habitat will help ensure that when they reach our beaches, exhausted and ready to nest, they're met with true Southern hospitality: plenty of food, good conditions for nesting, and safe beaches for hatchlings to leave their nests so they may someday return to continue the cycle of life."
The wildlife service is accepting public comments on the proposal through May 24. To submit comments via the Web, go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS--R4--ES--2012--0103]. Comments may be submitted by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS--R4--ES--2012--0103]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042--PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
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