Loggerhead sea turtles received another layer of protection with 685 miles of coastline from North Carolina to Mississippi designated as critical habitat for the endangered species.
Wrightsville Beach was not designated but New Hanover County’s Pleasure Island is one of a handful of North Carolina beaches assuming the new classification.
The designation is required under the Endangered Species Act. Jurisdiction of the protected habitat is split, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration overseeing aquatic habitat and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overseeing terrestrial habitat.
The effort was met with concern during an Aug. 7, 2013, public hearing in Wilmington, when local stakeholders questioned the need of designation and its impact on federally funded beach management projects. Pete Benjamin, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Raleigh Field Office, said the designation will have little impact on beach management projects.
“It really should have almost no effect on the projects. It almost certainly won’t affect the outcome of any projects. It won’t be a deciding factor in whether or not any particular beach gets nourished, or really how those projects are done,” Benjamin said during a July 14 phone interview.
Benjamin said the habitat designation creates a little more work for the Fish and Wildlife staff. The agency completes a biological opinion for every beach management project receiving federal funds, outlining potential effects on endangered species. Benjamin said the biological opinion will now address any impact on critical habitat for projects at designated beaches.
“That document will need another section that separately and specifically looks at the effects of the project on critical habitat. So it’ll add some verbiage to the documents we already prepare,” Benjamin said.
Even if projects extend into nesting season, Benjamin doubted the additional consideration would prevent any projects from taking place.
“Those things happen from time to time. We coordinate with the corps and whoever the local sponsor is for the project and we figure out what needs to be done to protect turtles or shorebirds so work can go on,” Benjamin said.
Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project volunteer coordinator Nancy Fahey said she expects little impact from the designation.
“All the designation really accomplished was to more or less formalize protections that are already in place for sea turtles, as far as U.S. Fish and Wildlife goes,” Fahey said during a July 15 phone interview. “Renourishment is under review for that reason anyway, always, on every beach.”
Fahey said the designation could positively impact beach town economies by raising awareness of sea turtle conservation. Nancy Busovne, Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project volunteer coordinator, agreed.
“I also work in the vacation rental industry and I know from talking to our tourists that they love the turtles. A lot of them plan their vacations around nest hatchings,” Busovne said during a July 15 phone interview.
Designation is effective Aug. 11, 2014.