AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new proposal aims to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles by preserving their habitat along critical areas of the U.S. coastline.

NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the plan mid-July, proposing 8,870 acres of coastline in California, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina and Texas be conserved for green sea turtles basking, nesting, incubation, hatching and traveling to sea. The proposition also included the territories of American Samoa, Guam and U.S. Virgin Islands; and the commonwealths of the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.

A proposal announced by NOAA Fisheries and Fish and Wildlife Service designates new critical habitat areas to help protect threatened green sea turtles.
Loggerhead sea turtle. Courtesy: NOAA

In addition to designating critical areas on land, the proposal also includes protecting a part of the adjacent ocean, from mean high water (average of high water heights) to 20 meters depth (65 ft). Protecting this area would safeguard nesting beaches, migration routes and important feeding and resting areas.

It’s important to note that much of the proposed land and marine designations overlap with already existing critical habitat for other species.

Designated critical habitat for all threatened & endangered species. Courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(Burgundy lines/polygons – final features. Pink lines/polygons – proposed features)
Critical Habitat Mapper by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Courtesy: NOAA Fisheries

Sea turtles face a multitude of threats, including reduced habitats due to coastal development, loss of food due to pollution and runoff, death by fisheries, ships, debris and other pollutants, etc.

Establishing a critical habitat area generally does not affect private landowners or land ownership, nor does it created a wildlife refuse, preserve or closed area. It does, however, result in federal agencies consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA Fisheries to ensure actions they “fund, authorize or undertake will not destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat.”

IN-DEPTH: IN 2016, 11 distinct populations of green sea turtles was listed under the Endangered Species Act — 3 endangered and 8 threatened.

A green sea turtle swims in the waters off of Oahu, Hawaii. PHOTO: NOAA

IN-DEPTH: Climate change also threatens vulnerable populations of green sea turtles as rising sea levels and intense tropical systems can destroy beach habitats needed for nesting. Hotter sand temperatures can also lead to more female hatchlings causing an imbalance in gender within the population.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted to by October 17th 2023.