Unified Command Wildlife Branch scientists and partner organizations are implementing an extraordinary plan to protect sea turtle nests and eggs from potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The plan, entitled Sea Turtle Late-Term Nest Collection and Hatchling Release Plan, was developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-Fisheries), and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), and involves translocation of an anticipated 700 nests in an effort to prevent the loss of the entire cohort of hatchlings.
The plan takes a proactive approach to minimize oil-spill impacts by ensuring nests are marked to prevent damage from beach clean-up operations, and by coordinating the collection of nests at a point in the incubation cycle where transport is less likely to result in the loss of viable eggs.
“Permitted nest surveyors have been in the field locating and marking nests daily since the start of the nesting season,” said Sandy MacPherson, FWS national sea turtle coordinator. “Data on the nest location and the date deposited are being closely tracked. This allows us certainty in timing the nest collection phase of the plan.”
Once collected, the nests are individually packed in specially prepared Styrofoam boxes and transported by specially equipped ground transportation to a secure, climate-controlled location on the east central coast of Florida where they will remain until incubation is complete.
MacPherson noted that most nests are laid by loggerheads; however, a few nests are also possible from three other sea turtle species – Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and green turtle.
“As hatchlings emerge they will be released on east central Florida beaches where they will be allowed to make their way to the ocean,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA Fisheries national sea turtle coordinator.
“In developing this plan we realized early on that our expectations for success needed to be realistic,” MacPherson said. “On the one hand the activities identified in the protocols are extraordinary and would never be supportable under normal conditions. However, taking no action would likely result in the loss of all of this year’s Northern Gulf of Mexico hatchlings.
This plan applies to nests deposited on Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches during the 2010 nesting season only as it is this year’s cohort in the Northern Gulf area which is at the highest risk for encountering oil after entering the ocean.
Officials do not intend to implement these protocols elsewhere or in future years in this area.
According to Robbin Trindell with the FWCC’s Imperiled Species Management Branch, oil-spill impacts to nests laid along the Southwest Florida beaches are not likely to result in the loss of the entire 2010 hatchling cohort.
“The loggerhead turtles produced on Southwest Florida beaches are part of a larger subpopulation that also nests on Florida’s Atlantic Coast beaches,” Trindell explained. “Thus, the likelihood that all or a significant portion of this 2010 cohort would be lost is highly improbable.”
Officials note that scientists continue to monitor the oil-spill situation and are prepared to consider additional options if and when needed.
The complete plan, along with other wildlife related plans and recommended protocols, is available on-line at the FWS North Florida Ecological Services Office website - http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.
If you observe or find a sea turtle that appears oiled or injured, please immediately call 1-866-557-1401. Individuals are urged not to attempt to help injured or oiled sea turtles, but to report the sightings to the toll-free number. If you are interested in volunteering to aid in the recovery effort, call 1-866-448-5816. Four Gulf-coast states have also setup websites for volunteers; those are available at our website at http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/whatyou.html.
Collecting Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Eggs
Creator: Bowman, David
Publisher: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rights: Public domain