Victory for Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Sea Turtles

Legal victory will protect important sea turtle habitat, but a new report says major reforms still needed to save Florida's sea turtles

01-26-2011 // Aislinn Maestas
Loggerhead

Threatened and endangered sea turtles that nest along Florida’s coast are set to benefit from a court approved agreement between conservation organizations and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). According to the settlement, FEMA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act regarding the impacts of the NFIP, which currently subsidizes development in vital sea turtle habitat.

The agreement concludes a federal case brought by National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation challenging FEMA’s practice of issuing federal flood insurance in storm surge areas along the Florida coast. Under the NFIP, FEMA subsidizes insurance for buildings in areas prone to storm surges, providing insurance that is not available on the private market.

Making this insurance generally available directly enables the development of Florida’s delicate beaches, which sustain 90 percent of turtle nesting habitat in the United States.

“Subsidizing development in storm surge areas not only destroys habitat, but also puts communities at risk and wastes billions of dollars of taxpayer money,” said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “This settlement will require FEMA to scrutinize its flood insurance program as it relates to wildlife and maybe even use a bit more common sense before issuing flood insurance in our state.”

“This agreement has a great chance of ensuring that perverse federal insurance subsidies will no longer encourage inappropriate and harmful new construction in important sea turtle habitat,” said Jim Murphy, lead counsel for National Wildlife Federation on the lawsuit. “Yet even this major victory alone is not enough to save sea turtles from the onslaught they face.”

According to a new report released in conjunction with lawsuit settlement, sea turtles face an uncertain future in America. Sea Turtle Homecoming, Class of 2010: A Proactive Conservation Agenda for Florida catalogues the array of threats facing sea turtles, including loss of habitat, beach armoring, harmful fishing practices, marine pollution, oil spills and climate change. In response to these threats, the report lays out four key actions needed to ensure a safe future for sea turtles in Florida:

  1. Uphold adequate funding and support for the development and implementation of the Florida Beaches Habitat Conservation Plan and initiate a comprehensive reevaluation of the state’s Coastal Construction Control Line Program and other coastal management policies.
  2. Eliminate costly subsidies that encourage inappropriate and harmful new construction and rebuilding in ecologically important and high hazard coastal areas by placing common sense limits on Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and National Flood Insurance Program coverage and expanding the Coastal Barrier Resources System. 
  3. Enhance protection of less-developed coastal lands by supporting targeted land acquisitions and increased incentives through a combination of public and private resources and programs, including Florida Forever, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and ensuring that Deepwater Horizon oil spill funds are dedicated to coastal restoration.
  4. Commit to meaningful strategies to combat climate change by implementing recommendations established under Florida’s 2008 Energy and Climate Change Action Plan and enact strong federal policy to significantly reduce the state’s and nation’s global warming pollution, promote cleaner, safer energy resources, and provide dedicated funding for safeguarding our natural systems and human communities in an era of climate change.
kemps ridley sea turtle

“Our report asks people to think about what kind of homecoming turtle hatchlings that emerged this year can expect when they return in 30 years,” said Patty Glick, Global Warming Specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. “More importantly, it lets people know that we all play a role in determining how positive that homecoming will be.”

The report was released jointly by National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sea Turtle Conservancy. By highlighting the human-caused threats facing sea turtles, the groups hope to motivate Floridians to take the actions needed to save them.

“The BP oil spill disaster was a major wake-up call for Floridians,” said Gary Appelson, Policy Coordinator for the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “It took something that huge to remind us what is at stake for our state. Florida’s beaches and the wildlife they sustain are a national treasure. It is time we all play a larger role in safekeeping that treasure for future generations.”

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