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New Tool to Help Determine if Federal Project Overlaps with Endangered Species' Habitat

Kemps ridley sea turtle. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

North Atlantic right whales. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office’s Protected Species Division has developed a new mapping tool. This tool is designed to help federal agencies and others better determine if a proposed activity authorized, funded, or carried out by a federal agency could potentially affect a species listed by NOAA Fisheries under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).  These listed species include: marine mammals, sea turtles, anadromous fish (spend time in fresh and marine waters), and other living marine resources. 

If there are impacts to a listed species, federal agencies may need to work with our agency to complete an informal consultation or a formal section 7 consultation so steps can be taken to eliminate or minimize these impacts.

“Our goal in designing this tool is to help federal agencies and members of the public determine if a proposed activity would occur in areas where a federally listed species is typically found,” said NOAA Fisheries Section 7 Coordinator, Mark Murray-Brown.“Ultimately, we hope the tool leads to better project planning so projects can move forward and vulnerable species and their habitat are protected.”

More about how the tool works

NOAA Fisheries has developed a series of maps that include information on the “likely presence” of several listed species in the Northeast Region, which extends from Maine to Virginia. So far, maps have been developed for: Atlantic large whales, sea turtles, Atlantic sturgeon, and Atlantic salmon Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment. The information used to determine the “likely presence” of a species is based on factors such as geography, time of year and species biological requirements.

When using the tool the user should consider the following:

  1. Both direct and indirect effects of the proposed activity such as the effects that may occur downstream, and/or from transiting vessels, acoustics, or sediment plumes from disposal areas. 
  2. The effects of various stressors that can result from these activities, over both area and time. For instance, whether the proposed activity will result in increased turbidity, increased noise, habitat disturbance/destruction, and/or disruption of foraging/migration/spawning. 

After considering these direct and indirect factors, the user of the tool can make a preliminary determination whether the project will have “no effect” (no consultation required), or if the project “may affect” (informal or formal section 7 consultation necessary).

More about  ESA Section 7 and 10 Formal and Informal Consultations

To ensure that federal actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, federal agencies are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries under Section 7 of the ESA. We also review non-federal activities that may affect species listed under the ESA and issue permits under section 10 for the incidental take of those species and for scientific research and enhancement purposes.

For more information, please contact the Section 7 Coordinator, Mark Murray-Brown at Mark.Murray-Brown@noaa.gov.

To read more about the 40th Anniversary of the ESA click here.