More sea turtles died or became disabled in the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than in any other event in the past two decades, according to the National Wildlife Federation, the Sea Turtle Conservancy and the Florida Wildlife Federation. Struggling against the oil spill and other pollution, being entangled in fishing nets, seawalls and cold weather, sea turtles have had a rough year. Since it can take them up to 30 years to mature, which requires safe sands along the coast, restoring their populations can take decades.
The federal court could help. On Wednesday, January 26, a settlement was reached that requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act before approving insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for new construction. The environmental groups will have 11 months to complete a biological assessment.
Two environmental groups – the National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation – filed a lawsuit requiring the study of the impacts on the sea turtle’s nesting grounds before insurance is approved. Four of the species, green, hawksbill, leather back and Kemp’s ridley, are endangered.
While it doesn’t grant new protections for sea turtles, it may prevent new development in sensitive areas and nesting grounds. According to the Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida’s beaches make up 90 percent of the nesting habitat for turtles in the U.S.
“Of all the species affected by the oil spill, those for which I have the greatest concern are the sea turtles,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation.
The settlement will have some impact on the state and on the federal flood insurance program that losses from Hurricane Katrina put $18 billion in the red. The settlement focuses on stopping FEMA from issuing new policies in areas highest at risk to flooding and ending renewals for coastal structures damaged by storms and erosion. “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.
In 2005 NWF succeeded in blocking federal flood insurance on new construction in the Florida Keys in fragile habitat that sustains rare creatures like the Key deer. The courts ruling covered several hundred acres of privately owned land.
The environmental groups point out that in the long-term, the rulings will benefit us all by reducing liability and protecting lands that bring in millions of tourists.