After five years of delay, the federal government today finally proposed the protection of more than 739 miles of critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles on their nesting beaches along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The proposal spans from North Carolina to Mississippi and encompasses 84 percent of all known nesting areas.

These sea turtles face serious threats to their long-term survival from drowning in fishing nets, to loss of nesting beaches due to coastal development and sea-level rise.

“The Southeast’s nesting loggerheads swim thousands of miles through an obstacle course of human-made hazards,” said Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protected beach habitat will help ensure that when they reach our beaches, exhausted and ready to nest, they’re met with true southern hospitality: plenty of food, good conditions for nesting, and safe beaches for hatchlings to leave their nests so they may someday return to continue the cycle of life.”

This is the first permanent habitat protection that has been proposed for sea turtles along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Any new beachside hotels, homes or commercial construction built on protected beaches that require federal permits would need to be reviewed to prevent harm to nesting areas. The government is also expected to propose in-water critical habitat areas later this year.

Public comments will be accepted until May 24, 2013, with the final protections expected to take effect in 2014.

Read more from Biological Diversity – Photo by the Fish and Wildlife Service

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