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Pacific governors concerned over lack of input on green sea turtle habitat

Gov. Palacios
Compiled by Samoa News staff

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Three Pacific island governors are asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to work with local governments in reviewing the process of designating a green sea turtle critical habitat.

In their joint letter to NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Janet Coit and USFWS Director Martha Williams in April, CNMI Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, Guam Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero and American Samoa Gov. Lemanu P. S. Mauga said they have issues with the lack of community engagement in the Western Pacific in the current green sea turtle critical habitat designation process.

The CNMI and American Samoa have brought the federal agencies’ attention to "unacceptable reference materials" that were cited in a proposed rule, the 1998 Green Sea Turtle Recovery Plan, and the "outdated" five-year species status report.

The CNMI and American Samoa governors have also asked for an extension of the public comment period to allow the affected island communities more time to review the proposed rule.

According to the joint letter, "Neither governor received a courtesy response to their letters, and the local agencies were not provided with sufficient time to conduct a comprehensive review of the proposed rule."

Palacios, in his Oct. 17, 2023 letter, requested NOAA and USFWS to develop a more inclusive and comprehensive outreach effort for the "undeserved" island communities, "so we are able to understand potential consequences of a critical habitat designation.”

He said the current approach and the level of public outreach were "wholly inadequate to the point that affected island communities do not understand what is happening nor are aware of any tangible benefits related to recovery of the species, which should be our mutual end goal."

Palacios asked for an additional 90 days to comment on the proposed rule to designate a green sea turtle critical habitat.

Palacios, Leon Guerrero and Mauga told the federal officials that the public outreach effort would have been more culturally appropriate if it had followed the approach of the National Marine Fisheries Services in the coral critical habitat designation process.

The governors said any positive advancements made in improving the public and local agency involvement during the coral habitat designation process appears to have been discarded during the rollout of the green sea turtle critical habitat designation.

"We stand united in our request that NMFS and USFWS work with our governments to review the information underlying the proposed rule and consider publishing a revised proposed rule for the green sea turtle distinct population segments that occur in the Western Pacific. This will allow NMFS and the USFWS to fulfill their obligations to the Biden Administration's goal of advancing equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders," the governors said.

(Source: Marianas Variety)