Development of a Conservation Plan for Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles and Shortnose Sturgeon, (Acipenser brevirostrum), in Maryland
IAAAM Archive
Tricia L. Kimmel; Cindy P. Driscoll
Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cooperative Oxford Lab
Oxford, MD, USA


In 1999, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) received federal funding to develop a conservation plan for selected endangered marine species in Maryland waters. Initially, sea turtles were the species of concern. However, due to similar threats faced by marine mammals, MD DNR received permission to include them in the plan. The shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum, was later added at the request of the funding agency.

Twenty-seven species of marine mammals are known to utilize Maryland waters. Eight of these species are listed or proposed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 and one is listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. All four species of sea turtles that visit Maryland waters are listed as either threatened or endangered. The shortnose sturgeon inhabits Maryland waters and is also listed as endangered under the ESA.

To begin developing the conservation plan, we researched background information on the various species. A planning workshop was held in the fall of 1999 and included biologists from local federal, state and private organizations. Concepts presented in the plan are based in part on the suggestions and expertise of individuals involved in developing this conservation plan.

Section 4(f) of the ESA directs responsible agencies to develop and implement recovery plans for endangered species, unless such a plan will not promote the conservation for a species. Recovery plans delineate reasonable actions that are believed to be necessary to recover and/or protect the species. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries prepare plans, sometimes with the assistance of recovery teams, contractors, state agencies and others.

Recovery plans exist for the conservation of United States populations of most endangered marine mammals, all sea turtles and the shortnose sturgeon. However, the federal plans do not address the specific needs of these species while utilizing Maryland waters. Marine mammals and sea turtles are subject to varying pressures depending on their geographic location. Environmental conditions, commercial fishing activity, boat traffic, harassment levels and habitat degradation are among the many factors that may vary from state to state. Thus, in order to contribute to the overall recovery of a species, a state conservation plan is necessary to identify the specific needs of these species and to manage and conserve their populations while they utilize Maryland waters.

This conservation plan was funded through Section 6 of the ESA. In general, Section 6 provides for cooperative agreements between the Federal government (specifically the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries) and states to share the responsibility of conservation within that state. States that enter into a Section 6 agreement must establish and maintain an adequate and active program for conserving threatened and endangered species.

The Conservation Plan for Sea Turtles, Marine Mammals and the Shortnose Sturgeon in Maryland is intended to serve as a guide to identify, delineate and implement those actions that we believe are necessary to manage and conserve marine mammals sea turtles, and shortnose sturgeon in Maryland. Due to the diversity of the information concerning the species included in this project, the document is divided into two sections, one dealing with marine mammals and sea turtles collectively, and the other with the shortnose sturgeon. Subheadings under each section include information on jurisdiction and regulations, collaborating agencies, biological characteristics, factors affecting each species, recovery actions, and implementation schedules.

Some of the recovery tasks detailed in the plan are currently underway. A successful sea turtle tagging and health assessment study conducted with the cooperation of pound net fishermen in the Chesapeake Bay is in its third year. The MD DNR Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Program necropsy facility is finally completed, and essential equipment has been purchased to enhance carcass examinations at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory. In the coming years, we are planning additional efforts to address the remaining tasks.

Speaker Information
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Cindy P. Driscoll, DVM
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Cooperative Oxford Laboratory
Oxford, MD, USA

Tricia L. Kimmel

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