The 363 sea turtles killed and 106 injured since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could hasten the loggerhead sea turtle’s journey to the endangered list.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service is considering classifying nine loggerhead sea turtle populations as separate species under the federal Endangered Species Act, with two as endangered and seven as threatened.
The oil spill’s potential effect on turtle populations was acknowledged at a public hearing last week in Maryland, said Alexis Gutierrez, with NOAA’s sea turtle program. No more public hearings are scheduled before a decision is made, but the public comment period is open until Sept. 13.
Loggerheads are the most common turtles that nest on Anna Maria Island beaches. As of Saturday, 36 nests had been laid on the Island, down from 74 this time last year and 43 the previous year, according to Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring.
Threats to loggerheads include habitat loss, fishermen and the oil spill, according to NOAA.
Public comments on the proposal must provide supporting information on population status, distribution, migration, behavior, genetic structure, current or planned activities that may adversely impact loggerheads, such as the upcoming construction of the offshore Port Dolphin natural gas port, and ongoing efforts to protect turtles.
Submit comments by Sept. 13 at www.regulations.gov (follow the instructions for submitting comments on case number RIN 0648–AY49); by mail to NMFS National Sea Turtle Coordinator, Attn: Loggerhead Proposed Listing Rule, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13657, Silver Spring, MD 20910 or USFWS National Sea Turtle Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200, Jacksonville, FL 32256; or by fax to the attention of NMFS National Sea Turtle Coordinator at 301–713–0376 or USFWS National Sea Turtle Coordinator at 904–731–3045. All information, including personal information, will be posted online. Anonymous comments are accepted.