Federal agencies designated coastal areas in six states as critical marine habitats for loggerhead sea turtles, but bypassed Anna Maria Island.
The National Marine Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services designated habitats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
Florida territories covered in the designation include a few beaches in the Panhandle near Pensacola and Apalachicola, but skip over the beaches south to Sarasota County. The territory begins again on Longboat Key and follows the Gulf coastline through Fort Myers and Naples.
The majority of Miami-Dade and Broward counties were not included, but stretches along the Atlantic Coast from Palm Beach County to Jacksonville were included.
The critical marine habitats account for 46 percent of the 1,531 miles of loggerhead nesting grounds and 84 percent of documented nests in the six states, the release said.
“Probably the main reason is, from us to the Panhandle, there’s very little nesting and they have to cut it off somewhere,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring. “Our nesting numbers for 5 miles of beach are critical, but they’re really not that high in density.”
Fox said the designation might affect federal funding for research, beach improvements and renourishment in the areas that fall into the critical habitat. The designation also mostly affects land use.
“Our laws are pretty good. For areas that need more help, it’s better for them,” Fox said. “We don’t have casinos and we don’t go high and sideways with our buildings.”
“Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA’s mission,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for fisheries with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a news release.
“Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come.”
The designated habitats include near-shore reproductive areas, winter habitat, breeding habitat, constricted migratory corridors and Sargassum seagrass habitat, which is home to the majority of juvenile turtles.
“It’s really in the interest of the bigger picture of all loggerheads,” Fox said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with local laws and data collection. Nothing is different on the shoreline.”
The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in southeast Florida waters, and is considered an imperiled species. Loggerheads are vulnerable to being hit by boats and snagged in fishing nets. They have been classified as a threatened species since 1978.
The habitat declaration, in addition to nesting beaches, includes more than 300,000 square miles of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest critical habitat area in the United States.
First sea turtle hatchlings emerge on Anna Maria Island
The first sea turtle nest to hatch in the nesting season on the island took place July 12 in the city of Anna Maria.
The nest is in Section 3, which covers the beachfront spanning from Pine Avenue in Anna Maria and 66th Street in Holmes Beach.
The Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring collects data on the number of nests laid, false crawls, number of hatched nests and the number of hatchlings that have made it to the Gulf of Mexico and reports to state agencies the findings.
According to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director, volunteers will excavate the nest three days after it hatches to determine the number of hatchlings that made it to the Gulf.
Federal guidelines prohibit the nest excavation before a three-day waiting period expires.