Turtles threaten efforts to replenish Gulf beaches

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Efforts to build up eroded beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast have collided with mating season for several species of threatened and endangered turtles.

The turtles are protected by strict federal endangered species regulations.

In Navarre Beach — a barrier island off the western Panhandle — residents fear turtle deaths from sand dredging equipment will force work to stop until this fall.

That would leave two miles of beach without a storm-surge buffer in hurricanes.

Regulators ordered a dredging project in nearby Destin to end last month after three turtles were killed.

That city’s mayor says his beaches are so eroded that even a tropical storm could cause significant damage to some properties.

While some say a change in endangered species laws is needed to allow more turtle deaths during major dredging projects, turtle advocates say turtle populations are not growing rapidly and the animals should remain tightly protected.