Birds, plants and insects native to the fragile ecosystems of Hawaii are, alas, well-represented on the federal endangered species list. And now there are more.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced the addition of 48 species unique to the island of Kaua'i. The bulk of them -- 45 -- are plants. The service is also designating "critical habitat" -- a term that identifies specific geographic areas with features deemed essential for conservation of a species -- for 47 of the species. Instead of a patchwork of overlapping areas, it will designate one large area.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a press release that the ecosystem-based approach "represents an efficient and innovative model for conserving imperiled species and their habitats."
"This extensive listing provides new hope for Kaua'i's many endangered species," said Suzanne Case, Hawaii executive director for The Nature Conservancy. "The ecosystem approach being adopted is the right approach because it will focus protection efforts on large-scale threats like invasive weeds and feral pig and goat populations. Controlling these threats will not only help ensure the survival of listed species, it will benefit entire ecosystems."
Meanwhile, closer to home, the service has also has just proposed listing loggerhead turtles, which are in warmer water to the south this time of year but are sometimes seen off the northeast coast come summer.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service have determined that loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is globally comprised of nine distinct population segments that qualify as "species" for listing as endangered or threatened. One of them is "our" northwest Atlantic population.
Biggest threat to loggerhead turtles, by far, is the worldwide incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gil nets, a spokeswoman said. They also suffer because the beaches on which they nest are being developed. Light pollution is even contributing to their decline. The theory is that when young turtles hatch, they follow the moonlight reflected on the ocean to get to water. But if too many bright lights are nearby, they become confused and can't find their way.
This listing has been a few years in the works. You can read more about it at the North Florida FWS page (www.fws.gov/northflorida/) and at the Marine Fisheries page (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/loggerhead.htm).
The move was applauded by the Gainesville, Fla.-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), which boasts it is the world's oldest sea turtle research and protection group. The northwest Atlantic population nest on beaches in the United States from North Carolina to Texas and, until 1998, were an Endangered Species Act success story, according to a press release.
In January, concerns rose when loggerheads were "ominously absent" among sea turtles rescued from record cold waters in Florida, the group said. It suggested they were in perhaps worse decline than previously thought.
More than 4,000 juvenile sea turtles were affected by prolonged freezing temperatures, but unlike in the past, almost all of the turtles found this year were green turtles. What happened to the loggerheads? It suggested they were in worse decline than previously thought.
About that cold snap and what it can do: Manatees also were suffering. But David Godfrey, CCC's executive director, e-mailed me at the time about what they were seeing among turtles. Here's what he said:
"Typically, even in the winter, water temperatures in Florida's coastal waterways do not dip below about the mid-50s even on cold days. The relatively shallow waters are kept warm by the sun even on the coldest days. However, a week into January we had four or five days in a row of sub-freezing weather that reached all the way to south Florida. Water temperatures dropped into the low 40s, and we started seeing the largest 'cold-stunning' event of sea turtles ever witnessed.
"From the Florida Panhandle all the way down to Florida Bay and the Keys, turtles were succumbing to the cold. They typically are not impacted until temperatures dip below 50 for a prolonged period of time. We had turtles washing ashore or bobbing to the surface of our coastal waters for 12 days. Before water temperatures started to rise back up to above 50, over 4,000 turtles were recovered from the water and from coastlines.
"Most of the sea turtles impacted are 'sub-adults,' and they live year-round in our lagoon waterways. Often, when the temperatures drop as in this case, they try to head south to find warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, the cold weather covered so much of Florida (from the Panhandle to the Keys) that there was nowhere to go.
"The rescuers know turtles are in trouble because they literally just float motionless on the surface of the water or they are spotted beached and motionless on a shore. Most of the turtles were spotted along the north Gulf coast of the state or in inland coastal waterways along Florida's central east coast (Mosquito and Indian River Lagoons). The vast majority of the turtles could be cared for by placing them in a warm room or in warm water until their body temperatures rose back up and the water temperatures were high enough that they could be released.
Unfortunately, about a quarter of all the turtles died nearly 1,000 in all. As of right now, water temperatures are back in the high 50s (or even higher the further south you go) and many of the turtles have been released. However, a substantial number of turtles were in such bad shape that they will need longer term care in facilities around the state. There are between 200 and 300 turtles affected by the cold that are still receiving treatment."
Visit Sandy Bauers' blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace.
Visit Philadelphia Online at http://www.philly.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times