On Wednesday, two final rules were released designating critical habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), a species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Together, the rules represent one of the largest areas of critical habitat ever designated under the ESA. The first rule, promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), designates over 300,000 square miles of habitat in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. The second rule, promulgated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), designates 685 miles of land along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The species uses the coastal land for nesting.
The loggerhead sea turtle has been listed under the ESA since 1978, but, in 2011, the species was reclassified under the act into distinct population segments, thereby triggering a requirement that NMFS and FWS promulgate critical habitat rules. Wednesday’s rules came as the result of a lawsuit filed by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which culminated in the agencies’ promise to promulgate critical habitat designations.
A spokesperson for NMFS stated that protecting loggerhead sea turtles and their habitat is a key part of ensuring “healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come.” Another spokesperson for FWS stated that preserving the species would help preserve “a way of life for millions of Americans.”