By Gaynor D. Daleno
The public can comment through July 27 on two federal agencies' proposed rule to change the status of green sea turtles on Guam and the Northern Marianas from threatened to endangered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced they've extended the public comment period from June 22 to July 27.
In addition to a public hearing in Hawaii in April, additional public hearings will be held on Guam, in Saipan and American Samoa next month, according to the Federal Register.
Federal agencies received requests for additional public comment opportunities.
Green sea turtles are currently listed as endangered only in Florida and Mexican Pacific coast breeding populations, the two federal agencies state.
The federal agencies' proposed rule would designate additional areas, which they call "distinct population segments," where green sea turtles are given more protection as an endangered species. An endangered species faces extinction, while threatened species is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future, federal law states.
"We proposed to list the Central West Pacific (distinct population segments) — including green turtles originating from Guam and CNMI — and the Central South Pacific DPS — including green turtles originating from American Samoa — as endangered," the two federal agencies state.
Under the Endangered Species Act, activities that are likely prohibited to protect endangered green sea turtles include: importation or exportation of any part of a green turtle or green turtle eggs; fishing for green sea turtles or their eggs; and destruction or modification of green turtle habitat, including nesting beaches and beaches used for basking. Indirect harm to green turtles in the course of otherwise lawful activities, such as fishing, dredging, coastal construction, vessel traffic, and discharge of pollutants, will also be likely prohibited, federal agencies state.
Oral or written comments will be accepted during the following public hearings:
• 6 to 8 p.m., July 6, with an informational open house starting at 5:30 p.m., at Lecture Hall of the American Samoa Community College.
• 6 to 8 p.m., July 13, with an informational open house starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Multipurpose Center, Beach Road, Saipan; and
• 6 to 8 p.m., July 15, with an informational open house starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Multi-Purpose Room of the School of Business and Public Administration, University of Guam;
Online comments are also accepted at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0154.
In Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Marianas Islands, direct harvest remains a serious threat to green turtle populations, according to NOAA.
Hawaiian green turtles have been successfully protected from these threats for more than 25 years and their population growth is evidence of the success of such protection, according to NOAA.
The federal agencies have received a petition from Hawaii to delist green sea turtles in the Aloha State from being a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but the proposed rule says that a delisting is unwarranted at this time.