From late spring to early autumn, the first rays of morning sun on the white-sand beaches of Florida's northwestern coast illuminate a crisscross pattern of fresh turtle tracks. Atlantic loggerheads have silently climbed ashore during the night and vanished again, leaving the distinctive imprints of their powerful flippers behind them. Guided by the earth's magnetic fields, these 200-pound giants have made their way to the Emerald Coast from as far away as Africa to lay their eggs on the same beaches where they were born.

But escalating real estate development now threatens to disturb this age-old nesting ritual. The largest landowner in the region, the St. Joe Company, wants to transform vast tracts of land into a maze of housing developments, shopping centers, golf courses and parking lots. If these massive construction projects are allowed to move forward, the Emerald Coast's miles of coastlines, longleaf pine forests, cypress swamps and wetlands, which provide habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, Gulf sturgeon, Florida black bears and other imperiled wildlife, may be overwhelmed by pollution, roads and traffic. Along the shoreline, the glare of countless artificial lights will disorient loggerhead hatchlings, drawing them dangerously close to roads and other perils as they search for the ocean's edge.

The leading edge of the St. Joe Company's development plan is a proposed $312 million airport, despite the existence of an underused airport nearby that is more than adequate to meet projected air travel demand for the region. Funded mostly by taxpayer dollars, the project would threaten the health of important wildlife habitat and one of the most diverse bay systems in the country. The Bush administration may soon approve the proposal -- without meeting its legal obligation to study the full environmental impacts of the project and consider less harmful alternatives.

Urge the Bush administration to perform a complete environmental study of the impacts of a proposed new airport in the Emerald Coast's sensitive wetlands habitat.

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