Sea turtle nests to be moved Friday
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC) advises that authorized biologists and sea turtle
permit holders will be relocating sea turtle nests on Franklin,
Okaloosa, Bay and Gulf county beaches on Friday. The nests are
being relocated to the east coast to ensure the sea turtle
hatchlings do not encounter oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill. Nest excavations have been occurring on Northwest Florida
and Alabama Gulf coasts this past month and will continue
throughout the summer.
This unprecedented action is being undertaken
because it is far riskier to allow the nests to remain in place and
face the possibility that an entire group - or cohort - of sea
turtles could perish.
Sea turtle hatchlings face great challenges when
they crawl to the water, swim offshore and begin their lives in the
ocean. They face many dangerous obstacles, both on the beach and in
the water - some natural, some because of man - that make survival
This summer, the hatchlings of these threatened and
endangered species emerging from nests on Northwest Florida beaches
face an additional, likely insurmountable obstacle in the form of
large amounts of oil from the long-running Deepwater Horizon
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil products could cause
problems for hatchlings on the beach, but the highest degree of
danger lies in the ocean currents that determine where these young
sea turtles go. They are the same currents that determine where the
floating oil goes, which would constantly bring the young turtles
to the floating oil.
That's why a group of sea turtle experts from the
FWC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and NOAA's
National Marine Fisheries Service began planning a way to prevent
this impending loss of newly hatched sea turtles when it was clear
that oil would continue to pour into the Gulf and linger throughout
the sea turtle nesting season.
"We had to determine the best course of action,
given the extraordinary circumstances of this oil spill," said Dr.
Robbin Trindell, the FWC's sea turtle management coordinator. "If
we left the hatchlings to fend for themselves, they would face a
certain death. While the system we've devised will give them at
least some chance for survival, it is important to note that
relocating nests at any time is also very risky and would only be
considered during an unprecedented disaster such as the Deepwater
The plan involves moving sea turtle eggs that are
within a week of hatching from the beaches in Northwest Florida to
a facility on the central-east coast of Florida. Once the
eggs are removed from the nest, they are placed carefully in
coolers with dampened sand from the nest, transported in a
specially designed, temperature-controlled and air-cushioned truck
to the east coast, somewhere near the Cape Canaveral area, and held
under carefully monitored conditions until the hatchlings emerge
from the eggs.
When the eggs hatch at this facility, the
hatchlings are released on a nearby beach. This type of
action is a last resort in Florida, where every effort is made to
leave sea turtle nests in place so that hatchlings emerge naturally
and depart from the beach where their mother nested.
Sea turtle eggs can be moved as they near their
hatching date, but some eggs may still be lost because of the
"We don't move the eggs until they have incubated
at least 47-49 days," Trindell said. "The permitted individuals who
check beaches every morning for sea turtle nesting activity have
been diligent in marking the nests and keeping data on when the
nests were laid, so we have accurate dates for when the eggs can be
Moving these eggs also brings concerns about
disrupting the poorly understood mechanisms that guide a female sea
turtle back to the beach where she hatched. It is possible
these hatchlings would eventually return to Northwest Florida to
nest. However, it is also possible that releasing the hatchlings on
the east coast of Florida will result in those turtles returning to
the east coast or going to some other area to nest.
About 700 sea turtle nests are dug in Northwest
Florida each year, and each nest typically contains 100-120
eggs. Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common species to
nest in this part of Florida, but some nests of Kemp's ridleys and
green turtles also are expected. Many of the nests will be
moved by late July, but the process could continue until October,
depending on when nests are made.
The project has required a huge effort by all the
volunteers, the FWC and its partners, but everyone involved is
determined to give these sea turtles a chance to make it to clean
waters, where they can continue their life cycle.
"It is a phenomenal partnership with everyone
working toward one goal, and that is to help our wildlife survive
this disaster," Trindell said. "There are folks out on the beaches
cleaning and searching for sea turtle nests all night long now, and
none of what we are about to undertake could occur without those
For more information on the plan to relocate
Northwest Florida sea turtle eggs, go to www.fws.gov/northflorida.
To report sightings of oiled wildlife, call 866-557-1401. For more
information on sea turtle conservation, visit MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.
For information on volunteering to aid in the recovery effort, call
866-448-5816. For other information on the oil spill, go to