FWS and NOAA Propose Critical Habitat Designation for Green Sea Turtles

On July 19, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published proposed rules designating critical habitat for green sea turtles. The FWS proposal covers areas on land while the NMFS proposal covers the marine environment.

FWS would designate approximately 8,870 acres in the States of Florida and Hawai’i; the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam; the commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, and two USFWS-managed areas (Midway Islands and Palmyra Atoll) for the turtles.

NMFS, similarly, would set aside nearshore areas from the mean high water line to 20 m depth located along the coasts of Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, California (which also includes nearshore areas from the mean high water line to 10 km offshore), Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands as well as Sargassum habitat, from 10 m depth to the outer boundary of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to aid in preserving the species.

FWS certifies that its proposal will not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities because the agency asserts that the proposal only directly regulates federal agencies. NMFS prepared an initial regulatory flexibility analysis as part of their draft economic analysis determining that up to 211 small entities involved in construction activities “may bear costs” under their rule averaging $630 per year.

FWS and NMFS will be holding multiple public hearings in mid to late August. Comments on both proposed rules are due October 17, 2023.