U.S. Fish and Wildlife holding public hearings on loggerhead habitat
CHARLESTON, S.C. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding a public hearing on designating 750 miles of beaches from North Carolina to Mississippi as critical habitat for endangered loggerhead sea turtles.
The hearing Tuesday evening in Charleston is followed by two this week in North Carolina - one in Wilmington on Wednesday and one in Morehead City on Thursday.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated it will cost about $150,000 a year to administer the Endangered Species Act along the beaches. The figures reflect the costs of reviews of projects such as beach renourishment that might affect the turtles.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, meanwhile, has proposed that waters near the designated beaches, as well as additional waters off North Carolina and Florida and migratory corridors between those two states also designated as critical.
While loggerheads have been listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, the Fish and Wildlife Service two years ago changed the listing from a single worldwide designation to nine distinct groups to focus on need for conservation in specific areas.
Three nonprofit groups, including Oceana Inc., sued in federal court in San Francisco last January seeking to have the agency designate the habitat, something Fish and Wildlife said it was doing when it received the complaint.
The nesting areas that are the subject of the public hearings, and waters near them, are seen as critical for the recovery of the species threatened in the northwest Atlantic.
About 19 percent of the shoreline designated in the six states is owned by the federal government; 21 percent is owned by state governments and the rest is private.
In the Carolinas, the designation lists 96 miles of shoreline in North Carolina that includes eight nesting areas ranging from Carteret County south to Brunswick County. In South Carolina, 79 miles of shoreline has been designated critical habitat, including 22 nesting areas from George town County south to Beaufort County.
Figures from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources show a record 4,600 loggerhead nests were recorded last year.