(Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday designated 685 miles (1,100 km) of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and 300,000 square miles (777,000 sq km) of ocean off the Gulf and Atlantic coasts as critical nesting and roaming habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles.
The joint ruling by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the largest critical habitat designation in U.S. history, environmentalists say.
The announcement followed a lawsuit filed last year by environmental groups to require the government to protect the area. Scientists said the area is home to 70,000 to 90,000 nesting sites per year and comprises 84 percent of all known nesting areas for the large sea turtles.
The designated area includes some reproductive areas directly off of nesting beaches from North Carolina through Mississippi, and breeding habitat in Florida, as well as 88 nesting beaches in six states which account for 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles (2,464 km) of coastal beach shoreline used by loggerheads.
“Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries.
Protection doesn’t limit public access to the designated areas but requires that any federal activity in the waters off nesting sites, such as drilling or fisheries, must be further scrutinized for possible impact on the turtles.
The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in the southeastern United States and migrate thousands of miles in U.S. waters but nest on Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico shores.
They can live 40 years or longer, weighing up to 250 pounds (113 kg), and were first listed as endangered in 1978.Loggerheads face persistent threats from fishing gear, pollution and climate change, said Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist at Oceana, a Washington-based nonprofit environmental group, one of three organizations that sued the government.
Scientists estimate about 50,000 loggerhead sea turtles are caught in shrimp trawls each year in the Gulf of Mexico, she said.
Endangered or threatened sea turtles that frequent Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico waters also include Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and green sea turtles.
This morning Richard Fowlkes got a call from one of the SWTW volunteers walking her assigned area, about a very large loggerhead sea turtle that she found stuck in a deep hole on the beach that somebody failed to fill in. During the night the turtle came up a short distance from the gulf onto the beach and when she turned around to go back towards the water she fell head first into the hole. As turtles cannot go backwards, she continued to try to move forward hole and dug her head in deeper into the sand. A lot of her body and entire head was covered with sand. At first, the volunteer thought the turtle was dead, but she moved one of her back flippers! She reported that the turtle was alive to Richard and he began calling for help while he was on his way to the location. It was impossible to move her as she most likely weighs about 300 pounds. After talking to Sharon, Richard advised Johndra that he was on his way and other help was coming too and to continue her walk to ensure there were no other nests, crawls or strandings that needed our attention. Sharon called other walkers, the TDC, Code Enforcement and the Sheriff’s office for help.
Richard was the first to arrive and tried to lift her as well, but he was unable to. He began digging out the sand around her head and body so she could breath and hopefully be able to move some. That took some time because he wanted to be careful not to harm her or force her head even further in the sand. As runners and beach walkers came along, Richard enlisted their help. They were all so eager to help this amazing threatened sea turtle. Finally, they were able to expose her head and felt some relief that she was alive, moving a little and could now breathe better.
At this point, Richard lead the volunteers to work on digging out the sand around the front of her body so they could attempt to lift her up and give her some leverage to pull herself out of the hole, but she was so heavy they could not move her. Finally more reinforcement arrived. Joe a SWTW volunteer for the Midwest area. With Richard, Joe and Bridgett, the incredible jogger on the beach, they were able to lift her enough to get her to the edge of the hole. Richard said it was like building an escape.
Once she on the edge of the hole, she would from time to time, lift her head. Richard knew she needed water so asked the crowd if anybody had a bucket. Unbelievably somebody showed up with a bucket and Richard filled it with water and poured it on her head and body. That seemed to revive her. There was applause from the bystanders as she began to move her large body out of the hole and slowly walk towards the gulf, her home. Richard continued to pour water over her head and each bucket gave her more strength. Once she started, it did not take her too long to get far enough in the surf to be able to swim out. Again applause from the bystanders, TDC, SWTW volunteers and the Sheriffs. We watched as she so easily began to swim out lifting her head every once in a while to breath fresh air and we think to let us know she was ok.
This story is not just about the plight of a sea turtle who was just trying to come ashore to lay eggs, or even about the rescue of that federally protected endangered species. It is about the danger of digging holes on the beach and not filling them in at the end of the day. Holes on the beach can kill adult and baby sea turtles. They are a danger to runners or even people just walking the beach at night. Fill in holes on the beach at the end of the day. Teach your children the dangers of leaving holes on the beach.
SWTW would like to thank all the many caring people who stepped up today to help. We are so lucky to have a great TDC beach patrol, sheriff department, volunteers, and friends on the beach. You are the greatest.
SWTWG uses donations for educational purposes. Every year this wonderful school in Sacramento, California does a project and sends the money to us. This money is used to help our educational programs. We are so excited to have this happen. The school and class found us because one of the teachers folks used to be a big part of our group here in Florida and they have moved on to California. We love this card and love this class. Our sun visors go off to them. Thanks a million for you help.
Walton County has a Wildlife Lighting Ordinance which provides guidelines for proper light management. For information on local lighting regulations and to see the complete ordinance, visit Walton County’s website.
For information on sea turtle friendly lights go to the following:
Walton County Lighting Ordinance
This turtle was released by the well meaning public with hooks still in it and will die, it should have been taken to help.
The women involved called me today and wanted me to know that some folks on the beach wanted to call someone but the fishermen there were under the opinion that if you cut the line the fishhook then would dissolve. This is not true, they may rust away but that takes time and the hook can do a lot of damage to the turtle while waiting for this to happen. Also the fishing line gets wrapped around different parts of the turtle some in it’s mouth. This in itself can kill the sea turtle, I have taken fishing line off a turtle when it was wrapped around it’s neck and also around it’s flippers and can’t swim. So just cutting the line is not enough. If you have caught a sea turtle you must bring it to shore and call the proper people to get the turtle the medical help it needs. Don’t just cut the line and let it become the problem for the turtle, when it is your hook and line.
SOUTH WALTON PERMITS BONFIRES ON BEACHES, BUT A PERMIT MUST BE OBTAINED AND NO FIRES CLOSE TO SEA TURTLE NESTS, PLEASE, BE A GOOD TURTLE FRIEND.
Who could have foreseen the BP oil disaster and how it was to affect sea turtle nesting.
The problems it brought were many, here are just a few.
Extra reports and interface with local, state and federal officials as well as with the media.
We watched different owners, condos, and hotels, take action into their own hands to keep the oil out with no regard to sea turtle habitat.
Extra work to do our daily monitoring while every kind of vehicle that was on our beaches day and night.
Working with day and night cleaning to keep everyone on track.
Try to keep all the different agencies on the beach off until we could do our daily monitoring.
Moving nests at the correct time.
Caging nest to prevent hatchlings from going into the oil in the gulf.
Educate folks to what was going on.
People handling, extra effort is given to explain what and why sea turtles do what they do.
And if that was not enough we had nest predated by red fox, coyote and dogs. For the second year in a row we have had domesticated dogs digging up our nests and killing hatchlings, this is a problem to be addressed with Walton County.
1 Kemps Ridley nest
30 Loggerhead nest
21 false crawls- as you can see this number is more than double or usual number
13 nests relocated to the East Coast
4 nests that hatched into cages and hatchlings moved to the East Coast for release
7 nest were Predated many hatchlings lost
SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL THE VOLUNTEERS OF SOUTH WALTON TURTLE WATCH GROUP FOR ALL THEIR EFFORTS THIS SUMMER, I KNOW IT WAS VERY HARD GOING BUT YOU DID A GREAT JOB AND YOU DO MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. I WILL KEEP YOU ON FOR NEXT YEAR.