Kathryn Brooks
© Kathryn Brooks

Sea Turtles

Singer Island

Located in Florida’s Palm Beach County, Singer Island is recognized as one of the most important nesting beaches in the U.S. for loggerheads, as well as an important nesting habitat for green sea turtles and leatherbacks who return there year after year to lay their eggs. While leatherback and green sea turtle nesting have been increasing in recent years, loggerhead nesting has been experiencing general decline since 1998. Plans to construct a breakwater to help slow erosion of Singer Island beaches would harm all sea turtles using the beaches and nearshore habitats.

The Problem

Palm Beach County officials have proposed spending $30 – 50 million dollars of taxpayer money to place 11 giant limestone breakers 300 feet offshore to slow advancing  erosion that is threatening beachfront condos —a move that even the project sponsors admit will only slow the erosion and not stop it. These barriers would harm or impede sea turtles returning to shore to lay their eggs, as well as create a barrier to hatchling sea turtles making their way out to sea.

How We’re Helping

Since the project was introduced in 2008, several agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and a coalition of conservation organizations that includes Defenders, have provided detailed information about how the project would harm sea turtles and the nearshore ecology. County officials, faced with the challenge of trying to save condominiums in the face of severe erosion, appeared poised to override these environmental concerns to try to reassure  residents of vulnerable beachfront structures.

In 2011, Defenders’ Florida representative, Elizabeth Fleming, testified in front of the Palm Beach County commissioners citing the enormous impact the project would have on sea turtles. After hearing testimony from Defenders and other conservation groups, the commissioners voted 5 – 2 to suspend work on the project, citing the need for more information. This was a huge win for sea turtles and other animals that depend on the beach and nearshore habitats. .

Where We Are Today

It is unlikely that the 2011 vote will be the last as plans to stop the erosion on Singer Island have been advanced in different forms for many years. Such plans would set a terrible precedent, essentially giving the green light to four other breakwater projects in Palm Beach County alone.

Defenders continues to work with and support the efforts of other conservation organizations in the area, like Surfrider Foundation, to monitor projects and advocate for sea turtle protections. Knowing that this project, and others like it, must let sound science rather than politics hold sway, we will continue to use the Endangered Species Act to ensure that proper consideration is given to the conservation and recovery of sea turtles and other wildlife that rely on these beaches.

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