In early July we brought you news of the Great Sea Turtle Relocation–an ambitious plan dreamed up by conservationists to scoop up some 70,000 sea turtle eggs from Gulf Coast beaches, to prevent the hatchlings from crawling straight into oil-fouled waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the plan carried considerable risks to the unborn turtles, but said it was the best chance of preventing the die-off an entire generation.
Now the update: Over the past week, the plan has gone into action, and baby turtles are now swimming free in the Atlantic Ocean. But some experts question whether the launched turtles have a chance.
On Alabama and Florida beaches workers are carefully digging up nests, marking the eggs with “this end up” symbols, and packing them in styrofoam coolers for the truck ride to a Kennedy Space Center warehouse. The eggs belong mostly to threatened loggerheads, along with some endangered green, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Check out a photo gallery of the turtle rearing and release operations after the jump.
The first batch of turtles gave the project managers cause for optimism, according to Jane A. Provancha, a contractor working in the warehouse:
On Saturday and Monday evenings, she released 56 baby turtles into the dark waters of the Atlantic and watched them swim away. Turtles from about 83% of the eggs in the first nest have emerged and swum out to sea, she said. “They looked really great. They were a little slow at first, but then they started moving around,” she said. [Los Angeles Times]
But some experts are worried that these newly released hatchlings will run into navigation trouble. Marine biologist Ken Lohmann notes that these baby turtles typically take their first swims in the Gulf of Mexico, but instead they’re being released into the Atlantic from Florida’s east coast. That may be enough to scramble their navigational systems and interfere with their normal migratory routes.
His view is backed up by evidence that suggests turtles are programmed from birth to follow a specific migratory path once in water. Indeed, turtles from different nesting sites seem to inherit different sets of navigational instructions. And that means a turtle born in the Gulf but displaced to the Atlantic coast may follow the wrong path out to the open ocean, Lohmann says. [New Scientist]
Recent posts on the BP oil spill:
80beats: BP’s Cap Has Stopped the Oil Leak–for Now
80beats: Gulf Coast Turtle News: No More Fiery Death; Relocating 70,000 Eggs
80beats: Next from X Prize: An Award for Cleaning up BP’s Oil Spill?
80beats: Obama’s Speech on the Oil Spill: What Do You Think of His “Battle Plan”?
80beats: BP to Kevin Costner: We’ll Take 32 of Your Oil Clean-up Machines