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Critical Habitat Protection Needed For Loggerhead Sea Turtles

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Florida beaches are crucial to the survival of threatened loggerhead sea turtles, which are currently thought to be the largest living hard-shelled turtles. They are also the only turtle species that still regularly nests on the U. S. Atlantic Coast. The state harbors one of only two global loggerhead aggregations with more than 10,000 nesting females nesting per year. The other is on Masirah Island, Oman. Federal biologists proposed protecting these shorelines to preserve critical nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles.

Sea turtle populations have historically declined due to overharvesting for food and turtle products. Since 1978, the Endangered Species Act has prohibited commercial exploitation of loggerhead sea turtles in the U. S. Current day threats to the turtles include beach erosion,  oil spills, boaters, artificial lighting, and climate change. Commercial fishing and shrimping activities often cause turtles to drown and become mutilated or entangled in nets. Another critical threat to sea turtles includes the loss of nesting beaches due to coastal development.

Under this new proposal, any new beachside hotels, homes, or commercial construction built on protected beaches that require federal permits would need to be reviewed to prevent harm to nesting areas. Any wave-energy, offshore-drilling, or aquaculture projects in the critical habitat area would also require assessment to ensure that these activities would not compromise sea turtles’ breeding, shelter, and migration.

Federal officials said a critical habitat designation will have a negligible impact on individuals’ beach use and access.

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