designation of offshore
waters as loggerhead critical habitat
the prospect of yet more regulation off their beaches, Outer Banks
residents at a hearing Thursday in Manteo took to appealing directly to
agency officials for relief.
The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration is proposing to designate northern North
Carolina offshore waters as critical habitat for loggerhead turtles.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a separate proposed rule for the
“We have already lost income because of
some of the other environmental studies,” Marianne O’Neal of Hatteras
told NOAA staff conducting the meeting at the county administrative
building. “We are asking for your help to keep the
special interest groups at bay. Please reconsider. Please.”
a brief presentation about the proposed rule, NOAA biologist Susan
Pultz explained that the loggerhead has been listed on the Endangered
Species Act as threatened since 1978, prior to implementation of the
critical habitat rule. But when the listing was revised in 2011, the
agency was compelled by law to designate critical habitat, which
defines areas crucial to conservation of the species that may require
special management considerations or protection.
But a lawsuit
filed in January by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and
the Turtle Island Restoration Network against the National Marine
Fisheries Service –a branch of NOAA –and Fish and Wildlife created
further pressure to get the rules published.
Pultz said that
federal management of the turtles has already included numerous
agencies, and she does not anticipate that a critical habitat
designation would involve any additional management beyond minor
“We have considered habitat every time we have consulted with the other
agencies already,” she said.
Fisheries has jurisdiction of the turtles in the water, where they
migrate and forage, corresponding with beach habitat that Fish and
Wildlife has proposed to designate. Although the agencies are working
separately on their proposed rules, Pultz said they intend to release
The ESA requires the designation for
threatened or endangered species on the basis of the best scientific
data available, taking into consideration impacts on the economy. But
the law also has wiggle room. The Secretary of Commerce has the
discretion –unless it would cause species extinction --to exclude areas
if it is determined that the benefits of exclusion outweigh those of a
critical habitat designation.
That seemed to be the opening
that inspired several speakers at the hearing to ask the agency to
leave North Carolina out of critical habitat areas, especially
considering the low turtle activity off its coast compared with
“The fact that the state of Florida has 90 percent of
nesting, and the state of North Carolina accounts for 1 percent of
nesting, ought to be a very clear sign that you don’t belong here,”
said Jim Keene, past president of the North Carolina Beach Buggy
“That’s what you give us – bad science,” he added. “It’s incomplete
layer of regulation on top of ever increasing regulations on fishing,
beach driving, and shoreline management is intolerable, said the 20 or
so speakers, all of whom were opposed to the designation. In
remarks, State Rep. Paul Tine from Kitty Hawk questioned the lack of
“up-to-date, good data.”
U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and
Richard Burr, R-N.C., as well as U.S. Rep. Walter Jones,
also oppose critical habitat in the state.
is something that we deal with day in and day out,” said John Couch,
president of Outer Banks Preservation Association, referring to the
“At some point, somebody in the
government is going to have to stand up (to litigious environmental
groups) and say, “Enough is enough.”
NOAA’s proposal analyzed
offshore –oceanic-- and nearshore – neritic-- habitats in determining
critical habit for loggerheads. Both encompass sargassum habitat.
nearshore habitat includes areas where turtles breed, swim, forage,
migrate and winter, and where hatchlings swim. The shoreline from the
Florida-Georgia border to southern Virginia make up the northern
recovery unit for nearshore turtle reproductive habitat, based largely
on the location of nesting beaches.
According to the draft
document detailing the proposed designation, an area south of Cape
Hatteras is an important wintering area for the turtles because of the
proximity of the warm Gulf Stream waters. Data also shows
many turtles migrate south in the winter in a narrow corridor along the
continental shelf off the Outer Banks.
Areas extending one
mile off a high-density nesting beach were identified as essential to
conservation of loggerheads, the document said, “because nearshore
waters pose the greatest opportunity for disruption of the habitat
functions” for hatchlings and nesting females.
survey that will be incorporated into the final document found that the
designation would have a low economic impact, resulting in none of the
36 proposed marine areas in the Northwest Atlantic Distinct Population
Segment, which includes the Outer Banks, being considered for
The economic analysis found that the cost impact
over the next 10 years would total $750,000, most of it for
administrative costs. It also did not forecast any changes to the
scope, scale, or management of fisheries or related activities because
of the critical habitat rule. But because of unknowns involved in
future projects, such as dredging and beach nourishment, estimates on
those construction costs and conservation impacts were less certain.
document said that the agency “anticipates that projects that alter the
habitat in such a way to impact transit back and forth from the
nearshore waters to the beach for nesting loggerhead sea turtles may
result in additional conservation efforts due to the designation of
No specific projects that would constitute an adverse modification had
been identified by NOAA Fisheries, it said.
proponents may experience indirect effects of the designation including
costs associated with project delay due to litigation and the increased
length of time it will take (NOAA Fisheries) to review projects,” the
Even with the assurances from NOAA’s Pultz that
the designation would result in little, if any, change in management,
Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Warren Judge said the
problem is not the agency as much as the environmental groups’
Currently, there are at least two pending legal
actions affecting Dare County brought by environmental organizations,
and a recently resolved suit has limited beach driving.
of us in this room know what will happen,” he said. That is, NOAA would
be sued. “We in Dare County are living examples to that very
As a proactive measure, Judge suggested that NOAA allow the county to
build a turtle hatchery.
Overman, the county manager for Carteret County, said that his county
does not believe that the designation will do anything to improve
conservation of loggerheads, and it is not warranted in North Carolina.
But what the designation would do, Overman said, is add
“significant costs to already significant costs” for beach projects and
Bobby Smith, a charter boat captain, said he makes 200 trips a year,
most of them two or three miles off the beach.
mile out would crush the fleet of charter boats,” he said. “The main
problem I have is your impact study. I don’t know who did it, but
nobody talked to me.”
Comments will be accepted through Nov. 29. Submit comments by:
Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the
Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0079,
click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter
or attach your comments.
Submit written comments to Susan Pultz, NMFS, Office of Protected
Resources, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
Fax: 301-713-0376; Attn: Susan Pultz.
To view documents on the critical habitat proposal, see: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/criticalhabitat_loggerhead.htm
a related story on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal for
land-based critical habitat for loggerhead turtles, go to