Mid-Atlantic
Saporta Report

US - Feds raise protections for North Atlantic right whales, but sea turtles may suffer

North Atlantic right whales have gained protections and sea turtles are more imperiled under a new federal calendar for harbor dredging that came to light May 14 in a federal lawsuit that seeks to protect sea turtles.

North Atlantic right whales have gained protections and sea turtles are more imperiled under a new federal calendar for harbor dredging that came to light May 14 in a federal lawsuit that seeks to protect sea turtles.

The entire calendar for dredging at some seaports along the East Coast has been modified in an effort to increase protections for North American right whales, according to a federal report with the new calendar. This species has been reduced to a population of some 360 animals.

The change allows harbors to be dredged in warmer months in North Carolina and continuing south through Georgia and Florida, to the islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Dredging is routine maintenance and typically involves vacuuming up debris that has filled a shipping channel and impedes ships as they use a port. The process has a history of harming certain sea life.

Whales will benefit from dredging in warmer months, because they’ll have departed for the cooler waters of New England and beyond. Sea turtles will be at greater risk, because in warmer months the females come ashore to lay eggs.

This shift in federal dredging policy was cited in a document referenced in the federal response filed last Friday to a lawsuit filed May 3 by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the coastal environmental group One Hundred Miles.

OHM is trying to halt dredging at Brunswick that is to begin this month. This is the outset of sea turtle nesting season and OHM contends the dredging could disrupt the process and harm animals.

OHM’s lawsuit mentions the document that came to light in the federal response. But the lawsuit filed on behalf of OHM does not appear to mention the update that was completed July 30, 2020 and shifts the dredging calendar.

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