Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Victory: Endangered right whale critical habitat protection expanded

NOAA Fisheries has announced it is expanding critical habitat protection for the endangered right whale. 

NOAA Press release:

NOAA Expands Critical Habitat for Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

Using new information not previously available, NOAA Fisheries is expanding critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales to cover its northeast feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region and southeast calving grounds from North Carolina to Florida.

This final rule, which was initially proposed in February 2015 and received 261 general comments over a 60-day comment period, does not include any new restrictions or management measures for commercial fishing operations.

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. Credit: Christin Khan/NOAA
This rule is based on 35 years of aircraft and ship borne surveys of right whaledistribution, and research into foraging and prey availability. Together, these data provide a far more robust understanding of the factors critical to species recovery. Based on this information and public comments, NOAA scientists and managers determined a critical habitat expansion associated with feeding in the North and calving in the South is necessary for species recovery.
“With two decades of new information and improved understanding since we first designated critical habitat for the species, we believe the expansion will further protect essential foraging and calving areas to further improve recovery of this animal,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’re making significant progress in reversing the population decline of the species, and are seeing signs of recovery – up to about 500 animals from the estimated 300 in 1994. But we still have a long way to get to complete recovery.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat within the range of the species consists of areas that contain physical or biological features essential to conservation of the species. The new designation does not create preserves or refuges or any other restrictions that directly affect the public. However, federal agencies conducting, funding or permitting activities in these areas, and project proponents that need federal permits or funding for such activities, are required to work with NOAA Fisheries to avoid or reduce impacts on critical habitat.


Sierra Club activists in northeast Florida have been working with Oceana to stop seismic airgun blasting to search for oil drilling along the Atlantic coast from Virginia down to Florida. Sierra Club Florida members, especially those from our Northeast Group in Jacksonville, have generated emails to public officials and turned out at hearings. 

The announcement of expanded protection for the right whale may slow down airgun blasting.

From Erin Handy, clean energy organizer for Oceana:

The Atlantic seismic airgun blasting permitting process to explore for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean has been delayed

New science relating to certain endangered species in the Atlantic (loggerhead sea turtles, North Atlantic Right Whales, and others is now being incorporated into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) seismic review process. Oceana and our coalition partners have been requesting this for the last year.

This delay gives us more time to add to the huge and growing list of opposition to this threat to marine life and the offshore drilling it could lead to. You can see that list here: If your city or county has not passed a resolution opposing seismic airgun blasting and offshore drilling please contact me. I will be happy to work with local elected officials so they stand with their coastal neighbors to keep the Atlantic and the Gulf out of any future oil exploration or drilling plans.From Erin Handy, climate and energy organizer for Oceana:

This announcement comes on the heels of NOAA fisheries increased protection for the endangered North Atlantic right whale described in this NOAA fisheries press release:

Maps of Right Whale Critical Habitat Designations

Figure 1: In the Northeast, critical habitat for feeding is expanded from 2,925 nmto 21,334 nm2

Figure 2: In the southeast, calving critical habitat is expanded from 1,611 nm2 to 8,429 nm2


Figure 3: Comparison of 1994 and 2016 Right Whale Critical Habitat Designations

Read more about right whales.
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