PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advisesthat authorized biologists and sea turtle permit holders will berelocating sea turtle nests on Franklin, Gulf, Bay, Okaloosa,Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia county beaches Monday, July 26through Friday, July 30.
The nests are being relocated to the east coast to ensure thesea turtle hatchlings do not encounter oil from the DeepwaterHorizon oil spill. Nest excavations have been occurring onNorthwest Florida and Alabama Gulf coasts this past month and willcontinue throughout the summer.
This unprecedented action is being undertaken because it is farriskier to allow the nests to remain in place and face thepossibility that an entire group or cohort of sea turtles couldperish.
Sea turtle hatchlings face great challenges when they crawl tothe water, swim offshore and begin their lives in the ocean. Theyface many dangerous obstacles, both on the beach and in the water– some natural, some because of man – that makesurvival difficult.
This summer, the hatchlings of these threatened and endangeredspecies emerging from nests on Northwest Florida beaches face anadditional, likely insurmountable obstacle in the form of largeamounts of oil from the long-running Deepwater Horizon oil spill inthe Gulf of Mexico. The oil products could cause problems forhatchlings on the beach, but the highest degree of danger lies inthe ocean currents that determine where these young sea turtles go.They are the same currents that determine where the floating oilgoes, which would constantly bring the young turtles to thefloating oil.
A group of sea turtle experts from the FWC, the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service, and NOAA’s National Marine FisheriesService began planning a way to prevent this impending loss ofnewly hatched sea turtles when it was clear that oil would continueto pour into the Gulf and linger throughout the sea turtle nestingseason.
“We had to determine the best course of action, given theextraordinary circumstances of this oil spill,” said Dr.Robbin Trindell, FWC’s sea turtle management coordinator.“If we left the hatchlings to fend for themselves, they wouldface a certain death. While the system we’ve devised willgive them at least some chance for survival, it is important tonote that relocating nests at any time is also very risky and wouldonly be considered during an unprecedented disaster such as theDeepwater Horizon Incident.”
The plan involves moving sea turtle eggs that are within a weekof hatching from the beaches in Northwest Florida to a facility onthe central-east coast of Florida. Once the eggs are removed fromthe nest, they are placed carefully in coolers with dampened sandfrom the nest, transported in a specially designed,temperature-controlled and air-cushioned truck to the east coast,somewhere near the Cape Canaveral area, and held under carefullymonitored conditions until the hatchlings emerge from the eggs.
When the eggs hatch at this facility, the hatchlings arereleased on a nearby beach. This type of action is a last resort inFlorida, where every effort is made to leave sea turtle nests inplace so that hatchlings emerge naturally and depart from the beachwhere their mother nested.
Sea turtle eggs can be moved as they near their hatching date,but some eggs may still be lost because of the movement.
“We don’t move the eggs until they have incubated atleast 47-49 days,” Trindell said. “The permittedindividuals who check beaches every morning for sea turtle nestingactivity have been diligent in marking the nests and keeping dataon when the nests were laid, so we have accurate dates for when theeggs can be moved.”
Moving these eggs also brings concerns about disrupting thepoorly understood mechanisms that guide a female sea turtle back tothe beach where she hatched. It is possible these hatchlings wouldeventually return to Northwest Florida to nest. However, it is alsopossible that releasing the hatchlings on the east coast of Floridawill result in those turtles returning to the east coast or goingto some other area to nest.
About 700 sea turtle nests are dug in Northwest Florida eachyear, and each nest typically contains between 100-120 eggs.Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common species to nest in thispart of Florida, but some nests of Kemp’s ridleys and greenturtles also are expected. Many of the nests will be moved by lateJuly, but the process could continue until October, depending onwhen nests are made. More than 40 nests have been relocated sofar.
The project has required a huge effort by all the volunteers,the FWC and its partners, but everyone involved is determined togive these sea turtles a chance to make it to clean waters, wherethey can continue their life cycle.
“It is a phenomenal partnership with everyone workingtoward one goal, and that is to help our wildlife survive thisdisaster,” Trindell said. “There are folks out on thebeaches cleaning and searching for sea turtle nests all night longnow, and none of what we are about
to undertake could occur withoutthose partnerships.”
For more information on the plan to relocate Northwest Floridasea turtle eggs, clickhere . To report sightings of oiled wildlife, call 866-557-1401.For more information on sea turtle conservation, clickhere . For information on volunteering to aid in the recoveryeffort, call 866-448-5816.
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