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Group: FEMA Must Consult FWS To Protect Turtles

October 14, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) has inched closer to filing a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It claims FEMA has violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing flood insurance policies that encourage coastal development and jeopardize habitat for endangered and threatened turtle species.

According to FWF President Manley Fuller, the federal law requires FEMA to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help increase the survival rate of listed species with mandatory conservation measures.

"This is a wakeup call for them. This is a request for them to change their way of doing business. We think that FEMA consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service could result in more appropriate future development, from the standpoint of sea turtle conservation."

Gary Appleson, policy coordinator for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation says 90 percent of turtles in United States' waters nest in Florida, and nearly all the turtle species here are either endangered or threatened. While this year saw an increase in hatchlings in some parts of the state, it follows a 50 percent decrease in turtle hatchlings over the past decade. Appleson blames the bright lights of coastal development.

"Bright lights on a beach, whether from a street light, or a bright kitchen light shining on the beach, can disorient hatchlings and cause them to wander in circles or head inland to burn up on a beach parking lot."

In Fuller's view, FEMA should require turtle-friendly lighting, construction that is farther from shorelines, and no new seawalls or rock jetties.

"If you build too close to the shoreline, then you have degradation of the beach environment, which is a negative for tourists, but it also eliminates absolutely critical habitat for turtles - and Florida is one of the best places in the world for nesting."

Critics say adding tougher construction guidelines would be too expensive, hindering coastal development. Fuller says his organization won a similar lawsuit to protect key deer, but he hopes this issue can be resolved out of court.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL