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Ambitious project to lift a generation of sea turtles out of oil spill's way

By Devaki

London, July 6 (ANI): In another ten days time eggs from nearly 800 sea-turtle nests in Alabama and the Florida 'panhandle' will be lifted out of the oil spill's way.

The plan's objective is to save a generation of already endangered sea turtles from the effects of immersion in oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. These effects could have meant infection or death for thousands of hatchlings that would have otherwise swum into the Gulf of Mexico.

To save the turtles - primarily loggerheads and some green, leatherback and Kemp's ridleys - organizations such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Marine Fisheries Service, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission developed the Sea Turtle Late-Term Nest Collection and Hatchling Release Plan.

The operation will witness the collection of nearly 70,000 eggs from nests, after which these will be packed into styrofoam boxes to be transported by temperature-controlled Federal Express truck to a safe facility at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Florida. Finally, they will be released into unoiled waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We looked at a variety of options. In normal circumstances, we would never do this. We know we'll have mortality. But at least we can try," Nature quoted Chuck Underwood, the spokesman for USFWS Southeast Region in Jacksonville, Florida, as saying.

Mike Salmon, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, said: "We have adequate data showing that eggs moved with competence at that age have no difference in survivorship to those not moved.

"What we don't know is what impact it might have on other aspects of behaviour."

He added: "The $64,000 question is, if you take hatchlings that would normally emerge in northwest Florida to the east coast will they return there, or to the northwest, where they should go?"

"We are between a rock and a hard place. If we leave the turtles where they are, they might not make it. If we move them, we may screw up their learning process."

"We have to do the best we can with what information we have at the moment, which is that a whole year's worth of turtles will be in bad shape if we leave them where they are. If we move them, they might be in better shape." (ANI)

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