Friday, 5 August 2011

USFW to revisit leatherback nesting designation

Corridor is important spawning place for turtle by The Daily Sun staff

Revisions should be made to the endangered leatherback sea turtle's current critical habitat designation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined.

The critical habitat for the leatherback is one of several species to be studied in depth by the Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine how best to protect it.

However, because it enjoys international protections, it is being left towards the end of the study, which could be critical for some of the five species under scrutiny.

The decision is the result of a 90-day finding and a 12-month determination on a petition to designate critical habitat for the leatherback in Puerto Rico. A comprehensive status review for this species, federally listed as endangered since 1970, will be completed, and critical changes in habitat policy will be considered.

Until then, the current critical habitat designation remains in effect.

Areas within the designation, as well as areas that support leatherback sea turtles outside of the designation, continue to be subject to conservation actions under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

In March 1978, the Service designated as critical habitat for the leatherback beach area in St. Croix, now the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge. The Sierra Club petitioned for the critical habitat designation to
be revised to include the coastline of the Northeast Ecological Corridor of Puerto Rico, a 132-foot stretch of beach from Luquillo to Fajardo including the beaches known as San Miguel I and II, Paulinas, El Convento
Norte, and Seven Seas, all of which are over five miles long.

Beaches along the Corridor are important nesting grounds for the leatherback, with an average of 213 nests, according to the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. Together, Puerto Rico
beaches hosted between 469 and 882 leatherback nests each year between 2000 and 2005. The adult leatherback turtle population in the North Atlantic Ocean is estimated at 34,000 to 94,000.

Critical habitat for the leatherback will be fully assessed when the Service and the NMFS conduct the status review for the leatherback.

Following five-year reviews for sea turtle species in 2007, the agencies decided to review five of the federally listed sea turtles to determine the application of the distinct population segment policy. The recommended
status reviews will be conducted on the loggerhead sea turtle, green sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, and hawksbill sea turtle, in that order. The leatherback was selected as one of the last
species to receive a full status review because as an endangered species it receives full protection under the ESA.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifiesareas with features essential for the conservation of a threatened orendangered species, and which may require special management or protection. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve. A reminder to federal agencies to protect these areas, it has no effect on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. Visit http://www.fws.gov/southeast/ or http://www.fws.gov/.

http://www.prdailysun.com/index.php?page=news.article&id=1312518834

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