A long struggle seeking protections for endangered sea turtle nesting areas has finally ended as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that guards wildlife and could potentially serve as a model for future emergency sea wall construction statewide, environmentalists said today.
For over five years, the environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, has been involved in negotiations with Indian River County in eastern Florida and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to approve an agreement that protects turtle nesting areas from incidental harm due to the construction of illegal emergency sea walls. The county submitted a habitat conservation plan that affects nesting areas for threatened or endangered sea turtle species, including loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and green turtles.
"The Habitat Conservation Plan will require Florida and its coastal residents to come to terms with how sea walls must be regulated to protect sea turtles," said David Godfrey, executive director of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. "Florida's east coast beaches provide nesting habitat for the world's largest remaining population of threatened loggerhead turtles, as well as globally important populations of endangered green and leatherback turtles. For these species to survive, Florida must protect its sea turtle nesting beaches. This HCP takes a major step in that direction, while also providing options for homeowners faced with severe erosion from the recent hurricanes."
The conservation plan includes an innovative approach to counter beach erosion resulting from emergency sea wall construction. Indian River County will implement provisions that include protections of coastal nesting areas, controls for predators such as raccoons, a sea turtle monitoring program, and restriction on beachfront lighting, which disorients baby turtles, causing them to crawl landward towards parking lots and roads rather than the ocean.
"This plan is a major step forward for sea turtle conservation and sets the standard for future sea wall construction throughout Florida," said David Guest, attorney for Earthjustice. "Indian River County has consistently supported development of the HCP in order to better protect nesting sea turtles from the impacts of coastal sea walls."
About 5,600 loggerhead turtles nest along Indian River County beaches annually, making it one of the most critical nesting areas in the continental U.S. The county estimates a significant increase in tourism as a result of increased turtle populations.
Earthjustice is a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations and communities. For more information, visit www.earthjustice.org.
Caribbean Conservation Corporation, based in Gainesville, Florida, is the world's oldest sea turtle research and protection group. Founded in 1959 by renowned ecologist and author Dr. Archie Carr, CCC carries out research, education and advocacy on behalf of marine turtles and their habitats in the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean. For more information, call (352) 373-6441 or visit CCC's website at www.cccturtle.org.