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Dredging leaves sea turtles unharmed

The dredge, criticized over fears it would harm sea life, will open up Key West Harbor to big ships.

By Associated Press
Published April 18, 2004

MIAMI - A dredge that has drawn criticism and a court challenge over fears it would kill sea turtles in Key West Harbor finished its work this week without hurting any of the reptiles, although some coral was damaged.

In 33 days, the hopper dredge, which vacuums sand and silt from the ocean floor, removed about 120,000 cubic yards of material and dumped it in the ocean about 13 miles off Key West.

Coral was damaged at least twice by the dredge, Navy spokesman Bob Nelson said. Officials were investigating the extent of the damage caused by the dredging that ended Thursday.

"Everybody's working together to find out what happened, why it happened," said Cindy Foley, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was administering the project for the Navy.

Sea turtles also can get vacuumed into the dredge and injured or killed by its pumps. Two independent observers were on the ship to look for injured turtles or turtle remains, but none were found.

Ritchie Moretti, who founded the only state-certified veterinary hospital for sea turtles and monitored some of the dredging from a helicopter, said the screens that would catch any turtle remains were not properly in place for the first three days of dredging, so it was not possible to know whether any turtles were killed then.

"Hopefully they didn't kill any turtles, but they could have," Moretti said.

Moretti said the dredging violated the Endangered Species Act and has filed a notice of intent to sue with the Army, Navy, Army Corps of Engineers, Commerce Department and National Marine Fisheries Service. He said he would pursue the lawsuit even though there was no evidence of harm to the turtles.

The $36-million dredging project, administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, is designed to support the Homeland Security Department and help replace training missions for the Navy and Marine Corps since the discontinuation of training at Vieques, Puerto Rico, by making the harbor deep enough to handle large ships.

[Last modified April 18, 2004, 01:35:47]

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