Challenging the elimination of dredging protections will help sea turtle recovery
At the end of 2022, One Hundred Miles and the Southern Environmental Law Center once again challenged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ unlawful decision to eliminate seasonal limitations on dredging projects.
“These limitations have protected sea turtles and other marine life for decades,” says Megan Huynh, a senior attorney at SELC. “And yet, for a third year in a row, the Corps has proposed changes to operation and maintenance dredging in the Brunswick Harbor.”
Historically, the Corps has conducted dredging activity in Georgia between December 15 and March 30, when adult loggerhead sea turtles and other vulnerable species are less likely to face harm and mortality in coastal waters. Warmer seasons, on the other hand, mark critical times when nesting female sea turtles rely heavily on the Georgia coast — and face a higher risk of contact with dredging.
While annual nesting trends are slowly increasing, the loggerheads’ recovery is far from certain. Models show that the Northern Recovery Unit population, a group of sea turtles whose southern boundary is marked by the Florida-Georgia border, is still only a third to half of its size from the 1960s. And despite recent highs, it wasn’t long ago when we experienced record low nesting seasons — setting up a period of plateau or decline until 2040. If dredging windows or other protections are lifted, there could be even more precipitous declines.
State and federal agencies have historically relied on seasonal dredging windows for good reason — they work, balancing the need for efficient dredging with the protection of sea turtles, fisheries, and other wildlife.Senior Attorney Megan Huynh
Both OHM and SELC raised concerns that the agency failed to consider unknown and potentially disastrous results if longstanding, successful dredging windows are removed. While dredging plays an essential role in keeping Georgia’s harbors safe and navigable, these benefits can be safely and effectively met by adhering to established winter dredging windows — as has been done for more than three decades.
“Given the effectiveness of dredging windows, there is no logical explanation for the Corps to remove them,” says Catherine Ridley, Vice President of Education and Communications for One Hundred Miles and Coordinator of the St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project. “Georgia’s coast plays an essential role in the lives of loggerhead sea turtles and North Atlantic right whales, among other wildlife. For generations, Georgians of all walks of life have come together protect these beloved species — and we aren’t about to stand by as the Corps’ nonsensical proposal throws away decades of hard-fought progress.”
In the December lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, OHM and SELC argue that the Corps did not conduct a sufficient environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
“State and federal agencies have historically relied on seasonal dredging windows for good reason — they work, balancing the need for efficient dredging with the protection of sea turtles, fisheries, and other wildlife,” says Huynh. “The Corps’ plan to eliminate these long-standing protections ignores the substantial risk of year-round dredging to Georgia’s loggerheads and other marine life.”