Most hatchlings would die without the move, marine wildlife experts say; watch a NASA timelapse video of the spreading oil spill at the end of this story
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal and state wildlife officials in Florida said they will take the unprecedented step of moving 700 sea turtle nests to try and protect hatchlings from the Gulf oil spill and associated beach clean-up actions. The sea turtle eggs will be incubated and then released on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Without the emergency plan, marine biologists say all of all of this year’s Northern Gulf of Mexico hatchlings would probably die. All six sea turtle species found in U.S. waters are on the endangered species list.
“Permitted nest surveyors have been in the field locating and marking nests daily since the start of the nesting season,” said Sandy MacPherson, national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Data on the nest location and the date deposited are being closely tracked. This allows us certainty in timing the nest collection phase of the plan.”
The idea is to collect and move the eggs at a point during the incubation cycle when they’re least susceptible to disturbance. Once collected, the nests will be packed in specially prepared Styrofoam boxes and transported to a secure, climate-controlled location on the east central coast of Florida where they will remain until incubation is complete.
MacPherson said most nests are laid by loggerhead turtles; however, a few nests are also possible from three other sea turtle species — Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and green turtle. Get more information on sea turtle conservation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here.
“As hatchlings emerge they will be released on east central Florida beaches where they will be allowed to make their way to the ocean,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA Fisheries national sea turtle coordinator.
“In developing this plan we realized early on that our expectations for success needed to be realistic,” MacPherson said. “On the one hand the activities identified in the protocols are extraordinary and would never be supportable under normal conditions. However, taking no action would likely result in the loss of all of this year’s Northern Gulf of Mexico hatchlings.”
The plan applies to nests deposited on Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches during the 2010 nesting season only, as it is this year’s cohort in the Northern Gulf area which is at the highest risk for encountering oil after entering the ocean. Officials do not intend to implement these protocols elsewhere or in future years in this area.
Florida wildlife officials said that, at this point, they are not as concerned about impacts to sea turtle nests along the state’s southwest beaches.
“The loggerhead turtles produced on Southwest Florida beaches are part of a larger subpopulation that also nests on Florida’s Atlantic Coast beaches,” said RobinTrindell, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “Thus, the likelihood that all or a significant portion of this 2010 cohort would be lost is highly improbable.”
Officials note that scientists continue to monitor the oil-spill situation and are prepared to consider additional options if and when needed. The complete plan, along with other wildlife related plans and recommended protocols, is available on-line at the FWS North Florida Ecological Services Office website.
Marine wildlife experts have located a total of 555 sea turtles in the spill zone as of June 25, with 123 turtles in rehabilitation centers. A total of 417 sea stranded sea turtles were found dead. Turtle strandings during this time period have been much higher in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle than in previous years for this same time period. This may be due in part to increased detection and reporting, but this does not fully account for the increase.
Biologists have also reported 54 stranded dolphins in the spill zone, a higher stranding rate than the historic numbers for the same time period in previous years. Officially, the wildlife agencies said that may be due to increased detection and reporting and the lingering effects of an earlier observed spike in strandings for the winter of 2010.
Filed under: BP Gulf oil spill, Environment, Marine biology, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | BP Gulf oil spill, Environment, gulf oil spill response, sea turtle nest relocation, sea turtles, Summit County, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, US Fish and Wildlife Service