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article imageOp-Ed: Loggerhead turtles and oil exploration: They just don't mix

By Karen Graham     Jul 24, 2014 in Environment
It was a huge victory, and bittersweet, but after five years of debate and struggle by environmental groups, including Oceana, the endangered loggerhead sea turtle finally won federal protection for its critical habitat on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast.
On July 11, the National Marine Fisheries Service (MNFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Commerce issued a final ruling on the Critical Habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The ruling gives protection to 685 miles of nesting beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina, and includes over 300,000 sq. miles of ocean, making it the largest designated critical habitat in the nation's history.
One week later, on July 18, the Obama administration announced the reopening of the Eastern seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration, approving the use of seismic surveys using sonic cannons to locate petroleum deposits deep beneath the seabed. The move was touted as a great step forward in revitalizing the coastal states, and creating thousands of jobs in the energy industry.
The White House announcement was met with dismay by environmental groups as well as the thousands of people in fisheries and tourism who are dependent on the sea for their livelihood. And to add insult to injury, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was the agency that gave the green-light for the use of seismic cannons, after first acknowledging that thousands of sea creatures will be harmed because of the use of these cannons.
Atlantic Explorer  one of a fleet of high-capacity streamer vessels owned by Petroleum Geo-Services.
Atlantic Explorer, one of a fleet of high-capacity streamer vessels owned by Petroleum Geo-Services.
Petroleum Geo-Services
My question for the administration, and I am not alone in this, is what is going on in Washington? How is it that one agency can authorize killing sea creatures, while at the very same time, three other agencies approve the largest protected critical habitat the country has ever created? The Atlantic Seaboard can't accommodate both the sea turtles and seismic surveying. Forgive me Mr. Obama, but have I and thousands of other people in this country suddenly been hit up-side-the-head with a dumbbell?
Maps produced by the MNFS, NOAA and Commerce Departments show clearly the beach and ocean protected critical habitat designated as being for the loggerhead turtles. It looks suspiciously similar to the same areas opened by the Obama administration for seismic surveys by energy companies. Below is the BOEM map showing allowed areas for oil and gas exploration:
Outer Continental Shelf
Oil and Gas Leasing Program
2012-2017
Lower 48 State Planning Areas
Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2012-2017 Lower 48 State Planning Areas
BOEM
The next map shows the areas designated as the Critical Habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Loggerhead Sea Turtle, according to the MNFS, NOAA and Commerce Department:
Specific areas for designation include 38 occupied marine areas within the range of the Northwest At...
Specific areas for designation include 38 occupied marine areas within the range of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS. These areas contain one or a combination of habitat types: Nearshore reproductive habitat, winter area, breeding areas, constricted migratory corridors, and/or Sargassum habitat.
NOAA
According to Oceana, an international oceans advocacy group formed in 2001, the naming of the Atlantic habitat for the loggerhead sea turtle went through five years of innumerable delays. But it finally took conservation groups filing a lawsuit in 2013 to make it happen. Even though the ocean habitat ruling provides protection for the loggerhead, it only gives near-shore protection of one-mile off the nesting beaches, even though the science show the females and hatchlings need at least a three-mile offshore protected area.
The ruling also failed to mention protected critical habitat for the North Pacific Ocean Loggerhead. These turtles are at risk from Hawaii and California fisheries activities where they overlap with the turtles habitat. “The lives of loggerhead sea turtles are truly miraculous; they survive our oil spills, plastic pollution and fishing nets, only to return to their natal beaches, which are now threatened by sea-level rise. Today’s designation will maximize conservation efforts by protecting turtles on land and sea, offering hope for recovery,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The protection of this critical habitat should be everyone's concern, including the federal government. I found a peculiar fact while perusing the Internet. It seems that each coastal state owns the territory extending three nautical miles (3.45 land miles) from the shore at mean low tide, and has sole jurisdiction to decide whether or not they will allow leasing that territory for gas and oil exploration.
This could present problems for the protected nesting beaches of the loggerhead turtle, especially in North Carolina and on down to Florida. The following map shows critical nesting beaches along the Atlantic coast that are now protected. As Oceana officials say, mother sea turtles and hatchlings have been given a one-mile protected offshore area, even though they need three-miles. If the Obama administration is allowed to open the East Coast to exploration, and the MOEB starts releasing Lease requests for oil and gas exploration and drilling, we will be opening up the Atlantic Coast to an environmental disaster.
Designated sites of nesting beaches. All these sites are considered critical terrestrial habitat sit...
Designated sites of nesting beaches. All these sites are considered critical terrestrial habitat sites.
NOAA
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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