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Emergency Sea Wall Construction Plan to Protect Sea Turtles

With a lawsuit and several years of negotiations, Earthjustice has successfully improved the way in which Indian River County, Florida, authorizes emergency sea wall construction on beaches that are of critical importance to threatened and endangered sea turtles.

In April 1999, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sea Turtle Survival League, a program of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, challenged Indian River County's emergency permitting program for sea walls. The county's authorization of sea walls harmed endangered sea turtles in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The beaches in Indian River County are part of the most critical habitat for the 5,700 loggerhead turtles who nest there each year. After lengthy negotiations, the county and affected homeowners signed a settlement agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Sea Turtle Survival League, in which the county agreed to develop a habitat conservation plan in accordance with the federal Endangered Species Act.

In December 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a habitat conservation plan that will counter beach erosion resulting from sea wall construction, and will monitor sea turtles, provide controls for predators such as raccoons, and restrict beach lighting which disorients baby turtles by leading them towards parking lots and roads instead of the ocean. The plan also places a cap on the number of seawalls that the county can authorize in the next 30 years. The plan for permitting emergency sea walls can serve as a model for the rest of the state of Florida.