The takeaway message: 

Late this summer, new plans unfolded to help save threatened species in the Southeastern United States.

In Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, selected critical habitats of endangered green sea turtles are set to become federally protected while wild oyster harvesting has been shut down in Apalachicola Bay as part of an effort to restore the fishery.

Meanwhile, scientists are gathering endangered mussels from rivers in the eastern U.S. in an effort to save their dwindling populations.

Green Sea Turtle Habitat Gains Protection

What’s going on?

Things are looking up for green sea turtles. Under the “Green Sea Turtle Settlement Agreement,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service must identify and designate protected habitats for the endangered green sea turtle by June 30, 2023.

Why it matters.

Because green sea turtles are endangered by poaching, fishing, vessel strikes and habitat degradation, the federal protection of their critical habitats will help stabilize their population levels. Green sea turtles are one of the largest species of turtle, and the only species of sea turtle to be entirely herbivorous, or plant-eating, during adulthood. Sea turtles play important roles in their marine ecosystems by controlling their prey’s population levels, stabilizing beaches through their nesting and keeping seagrass beds healthy by grazing. Ensuring the protection of their critical habitats is a big win for this endangered species.

Wild Oyster Harvesting Banned in Apalachicola Bay

What’s going on?

In Apalachicola Bay, wild oyster harvesting is now banned. With funding from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will invest $20 million into restoration, monitoring and planning efforts to help restore the Apalachicola Bay ecosystem. Historically, many locals along the bay relied on oyster harvesting for their livelihood, but nowvthe practice has been banned for up to 5 years in an attempt to let the ecosystem recover.

Why it matters.

Bivalve mollusks like oysters and clams play a vital role in the environment. Oysters are a keystone species, and help filter water, build reefs and provide habitat for other marine life such as fishes like red drum and sea trout. Additionally, many local communities historically relied upon oysters in Apalachicola Bay for their way of life. Scientists say the decision to ban harvesting in the bay will give oysters, and all marine life in the bay, a chance to recover. And though these communities can no longer harvest the oyster, for now, the hope is that a healthy bay will provide future economic opportunities.

Scientists Look to Save Golden Riffleshell Mussels

What’s going on?

In Appalachian rivers, scientists are plucking the golden riffleshell, an endangered mussel on the edge of extinction, from rocky riverbeds. Their goal is to help re-establish the mussel’s populations in labs, where they’ll attempt to later re-introduce them back into the waterways. Golden riffleshells are threatened by harvesting, dam construction and pollution.

Why it matters.

The endangered mussels in Appalachia were near extinction before scientists’ strategies were put into place, with only 100 mussels remaining in the wild. An integral part of a river’s ecosystem, these mussels filter water, stabilize riverbeds and provide food to other creatures like raccoons and muskrats. And according to the EPA, a single mussel can filter roughly 13 gallons of water a day. Though not a Florida species, the lessons learned from the efforts to restore the golden riffleshell may ultimately be useful in protecting our state’s freshwater mussels, of which 15 are listed as federally threatened or endangered.

What can I do?

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