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Loggerhead Sea Turtles Win Largest Expanse of Critical Habitat Ever

Jul 10, 2014 12:20 PM EDT
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The NOAA and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as of Thursday officially granted the threatened loggerhead sea turtle a vast expanse of critical habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts - possibly the biggest protective move in US history.
(Photo : Flickr)

The NOAA and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as of Thursday officially granted the threatened loggerhead sea turtle a vast expanse of critical habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts - possibly the biggest protective move in US history.

Officials announced Thursday two final rules designating this critical habitat, which consists of 685 miles of beaches as well as 300,000 miles of ocean. The turtles use these beaches - stretching from North Carolina to Mississippi - for nesting and breeding, and the ocean includes areas used by the species for reproduction, as well as migratory corridors off North Carolina and Florida.

The change comes after environmentalists sued the government in 2013, forcing them to protect the area. Their efforts proved victorious for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), but the move has more far reaching effects as well.

"The fate of more than just the loggerhead sea turtle rests on the health of Atlantic coastal environments," USFWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. "Coastal communities from North Carolina to Mississippi are also intrinsically tied to these shorelines and waters. By conserving the turtle and protecting its habitat, we are helping preserve not only this emblematic species, but also the way of life for millions of Americans."

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in the Southeast, nesting along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina and along the Gulf Coast. But due to collisions with boats, fishing nets, introduced predators and alterations to beaches, it was deemed a threatened species in 1978 worldwide, and had its listing revised in 2011 after it was found that out of nine distinct population segments listed, only two fall under US jurisdiction.

Therefore, the Endangered Species Act requires the designation of critical habitat for this marine animal. Restrictions will be placed on human activities which require federal actions, funding or permitting, according to the Science Recorder.

"Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA's mission," Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, said in the statement. "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."

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