National Marine Fisheries Service Proposes Designating 36 Marine Areas As Critical Habitat For The Loggerhead Sea Turtle

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The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently issued a proposed rule (pdf) designating critical habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean loggerhead sea turtle Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (Caretta caretta) within the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The 36 marine areas proposed for designation as critical habitat contain one or a combination of nearshore reproductive habitat, winter habitat, breeding areas, and migratory corridors.

The loggerhead sea turtle was listed worldwide as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on July 28, 1978. No critical habitat was designated at that time. On September 22, 2011, NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) jointly published a final rule revising the loggerhead’s listing from a single worldwide threatened species to nine DPSs. The final rule listed five DPSs as endangered and four, including the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS, as threatened.

The proposed rule declined to designate critical habitat for the North Pacific Ocean DPS. No marine areas meeting the definition of critical habitat were identified within the jurisdiction of the United States.

As we previously reported, FWS proposed designating critical habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS in terrestrial areas (nesting beaches) on March 25, 2013. Specifically, FWS published a proposed rule to designate almost 740 miles of coastline as critical habitat for the species. On July 18, FWS announced (pdf) that it would be reopening the comment period on the proposed rule. FWS also announced the availability of the draft economic analysis of the proposed designation.

The comment periods for both the NMFS and FWS proposed rules will remain open through September 16, 2013.