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First batch of sea turtle hatchlings rescued from beaches near gulf oil spill are released

July 15, 2010 | 10:59 pm

Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released in Cape Canaveral

The first group of sea turtles that are part of a sweeping effort to save threatened and endangered hatchlings from death in the oily Gulf of Mexico have been released into the Atlantic Ocean.

Fifty-six endangered Kemp's ridley turtles were released on a beach at Florida's Canaveral National Seashore this week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Thursday.

Sixty-seven eggs were collected June 26 from a nest along the Florida Panhandle and brought to a temperature-controlled warehouse at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, but only the 56 hatched. State and federal officials plan to bring thousands more eggs for incubation in the coming months.

It is part of an overall plan to pluck some 70,000 eggs from sea turtle nests on beaches in Alabama and Florida before they hatch and swim out into the oil from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off Louisiana. NASA has about 1,100 eggs incubating at the space center site.

Scientists fear that if left alone, the hatchlings most would likely die in the crude, killing off an entire generation of an already imperiled species.

Most of the turtle eggs being collected are threatened loggerheads, but some also are Kemp's ridleys, which nest largely in Mexico and southern Texas. Some, however, lay their eggs along the northern Gulf Coast.

Scientists acknowledge the plan is risky and that many of the hatchlings may die anyway from the stress of being moved, but all agree there is no better option.

David Godfrey, executive director of the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, said the first successful release of hatchlings brings hope that more will survive.

"It definitely shows that we're on the right track," Godfrey said Thursday.

Florida wildlife officials are hopeful, but remain cautious.

"It's just too early to tell," said Patricia Behnke of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It gave them some hope, but it's not enough data to make an overall assessment of how it's going to go."

After the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill in the Gulf, several hundred Kemp's ridley hatchlings were ferried by helicopter to open ocean beyond the slick. But there has never been an effort to save so many sea turtle eggs.

RELATED OIL SPILL NEWS:
Researchers look at Gulf oil spill's effects on marine mammals
Gulf oil spill updates(full coverage from The Times' environment blog, Greenspace)

-- Brian Skoloff, Associated Press

Photo: Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released July 10 into the Atlantic Ocean off NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Credit: Kim Shiflett / NASA 

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