U.S. to try to res­cue sea tur­tle eggs

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Brian Skoloff

PEN­SACOLA BEACH, Fla. — An ef­fort to scoop thou­sands of tur­tle eggs from their nests to save them from death in the oily Gulf of Mex­ico will be­gin in the com­ing weeks in a des­per­ate at­tempt to keep an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of threat­ened species from van­ish­ing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice will co­or­di­nate the plan, which calls for col­lect­ing about 70,000 tur­tle eggs in up to 800 nests buried in the sand across Florida Pan­han­dle and Alabama beaches.

It’s never been done on such a mas­sive scale. But do­ing noth­ing, ex­perts say, could lead to un­prece­dented deaths. There are fears that the tur­tles would be coated in oil and poi­soned by crude-soaked food as they hatch and swim out to sea.

“This is an ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fort un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary con­di­tions, but if we can save some of the hatch­lings, it will be worth it as op­posed to los­ing all of them,” said Chuck Un­der­wood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice.

“We have a much higher de­gree of cer­tainty that if we do noth­ing and we al­low these tur­tles to emerge and go into the Gulf and into the oil ... that we could in fact lose most of them, if not all of them,” he added. “There’s a chance of los­ing a whole gen­er­a­tion.”

Dozens of work­ers across the coast are mark­ing tur­tle nests, most of them threat­ened log­ger­heads, which nest largely along the Florida Pan­han­dle and Alabama coasts.

In about 10 days, they will be­gin the ar­du­ous process of ex­ca­vat­ing the nests, mostly by hand. The dig­ging must be slow and del­i­cate — aside from mak­ing sure the shells don’t crack, the eggs can’t be rolled around or repo­si­tioned to pro­tect the em­bryo in­side.

Then the eggs will be care­fully placed in spe­cially de­signed foam con­tain­ers, like cool­ers, along with sand and mois­ture to mimic the nat­u­ral nest. The con­tain­ers will then be trucked about 500 miles east to a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled ware­house at Florida’s Kennedy Space Cen­ter.

There, the eggs will re­main un­til hatch­lings emerge, and they will be placed one-by-one on Florida’s east coast, where the they can swim oil-free into the At­lantic Ocean. The tur­tles will soon start hatch­ing and con­tinue emerg­ing over the next sev­eral months.

Even with­out an oil spill, the vast ma­jor­ity of hatch­lings don’t make it to ma­tu­rity, Un­der­wood said.

“There’s a whole lot of un­knowns in what we’re do­ing,” Un­der­wood ac­knowl­edged, not­ing many of the hatch­lings could die any­way be­cause of the stress­ful mov­ing process.

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