Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Experts come up with risky plan to save sea turtle hatchlings from gulf oil spill

This image is from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document shows how sea turtle eggs will be dug up and packed by hand into containers and moved to Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This image is from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document shows how sea turtle eggs will be dug up and packed by hand into containers and moved to Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

To save a generation of sea turtles from being wiped out by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, state and federal biologists have hatched a daring but risky plan.

They plan to excavate the 800 or so nests that the turtles have dug along Florida's Panhandle beaches and the Alabama coast, and carefully move all the eggs about 500 miles to the east — most likely to a climate-controlled warehouse at Kennedy Space Center.

Any turtles that survive the move and hatch would then be released into the Atlantic Ocean, which so far has not been polluted by the oil spill.

Although thousands of turtle hatchlings could die from being moved, "This is the least of the worst case scenarios," said Chuck Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Even if what we're doing isn't a great thing, it's better than doing nothing."

If the biologists left the nests where they are now, he said, 50,000 turtle hatchlings "will go out into the gulf and get into the oil, and there's a high degree of certainty that that would be fatal."

The first nest to be moved, full of endangered Kemp's ridley turtle eggs, was dug up Saturday, according to Underwood. The nests are being flagged now, and the egg moving is likely to begin in earnest next month.

Normally this is the kind of thing that an environmental group like the Sea Turtle Conservancy would protest. But not now.

"We think this is really necessary to save this year's whole hatchling class," said David Godfrey of the conservancy. "It's pretty much a last ditch effort to save tens of thousands of hatchlings from swimming out to their doom."

Biologists from state and federal agencies began working back in May on what to do about the sea turtles that nest along the northern Gulf Coast. They debated the pros and cons of relocating the nests to various places, and finally drew up a nine-page plan.

"The activities identified in these protocols are extraordinary measures being taken in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster," the plan states.

No one could say how much the effort will cost, but the assumption is that BP will pay for it.

Turtle eggs hatch after about 55 days. So when the nests are at least 51 days old, then it will be time to start digging the eggs out. The plan requires excavating the nests by hand and then putting eggs into foam containers "that are soaked, washed with water, allowed to completely dry, and drilled with appropriate air circulation holes before eggs are placed in them."

The plan warns that "a 3-inch layer of moist sand from the nest cavity or vicinity of the nest site should be placed into the bottom of each Styrofoam box," and then when the eggs are packed in it, "a 2- to 3-inch layer of moist sand should be placed on top of the eggs."

The plan commands the crews moving the nests to "take extreme care not to rotate the eggs in any way during handling," and it also says, "Styrofoam boxes must not be tilted for any reason."

Initially the plan called for flying the boxes to the other coast, but Underwood said biologists worried about changing air pressure, engine vibrations and tilting the boxes on takeoff and landing. So instead the eggs will get a truck ride to the coast, which could take six to eight hours.

Once the boxes reach the Atlantic coast, they will be stored in a "designated incubation facility" where they will be monitored until the eggs hatch. Underwood said there have been discussions about using a Kennedy Space Center warehouse, but no contracts have been signed yet.

While in the warehouse, the sand-covered eggs must be "lightly sprinkled with water from a watering can as needed to keep sand moist, but not wet," the plan says.

If any hatchlings emerge, they will be collected each night and released on one of several east Florida beaches to make their way to the ocean. Releasing the hatchlings into the Atlantic makes sense because, based on tracking prior migrations from the gulf, that's where they would have headed anyway, said Henry Cabbage, a spokesman for the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"We're just giving them a ride," he joked.

However, one of the unknowns about this turtle migration is what it will do to their internal navigational systems. Sea turtles use their orientation with the earth's magnetic fields to swim back to the beach where they were born to lay new eggs. No one knows if moving the eggs right before they hatch will alter the hatchlings' ability to find their way back home someday.

"Potentially you could be messing with that process a little bit," Godfrey said. "But at least they'd still be on a Florida beach."

This isn't the first time humans have had to rescue sea turtles this year. During the January cold snap, about 2,000 were so stunned by the low temperatures that biologists captured and rehabilitated them.

So far, more than 100 sea turtles coated in oil have been pulled from the gulf, according to figures released Sunday by the Coast Guard and BP. Nine were already dead.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8530.

Experts come up with risky plan to save sea turtle hatchlings from gulf oil spill 06/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 28, 2010 10:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]