GULF COAST–(ENEWSPF)–July 9, 2010. The first of several hundred sea turtle nests on beaches from Alabama across the Florida panhandle was excavated and moved to Florida’s East Coast today.
The loggerhead nest of roughly 100 eggs was excavated from a site near St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve outside St. Joe, Florida.
“This is an extraordinary rescue mission to deal with an unprecedented threat to iconic and endangered sea turtles,” said Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “Nothing on this scale has ever been attempted, but the scientific consensus is that it is worth the risk given the magnitude of the threat.”
FedEx Custom Critical provided specialized transportation and will move hundreds of other nests to Florida’s east coast adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center for final incubation and hatchling release. Dozens of nest relocations are expected to take place over the next several weeks.
“Kennedy is uniquely situated on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore. We are home to many species of protected wildlife and we hope to provide these sea turtles with a better chance of survival,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana.
The relocation work is part of an unprecedented effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service, NOAA, many conservationists long connected to the sea turtle program, and FedEx, to do everything possible to minimize extraordinary risk this year’s sea turtle hatchlings face from impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Sea turtle biologists from many agencies and academia were consulted on a number of options to reduce risk to northern Gulf sea turtle nests, and all of the risks were carefully considered and weighed in light of current conditions. Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said, “We understand that significant risks remain, but the option of allowing tens of thousands of turtle hatchlings to crawl into oiled waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico is not acceptable.”
“FedEx is honored it was asked to support for the rescue and relocation of the endangered loggerhead sea turtle eggs and will provide transportation in our unique air-ride suspension, temperature-controlled vehicles to provide a safe and secure transportation environment,” said Virginia Albanese, CEO and President, FedEx Custom Critical. “The sea turtle egg rescue extends our longstanding commitment to support our communities in times of need and is the latest example of our work transporting some of the world’s most precious cargo from pandas to penguins.”
“Given our strong relationship with FedEx and our long-standing relationship with the federal agencies, we were able to move quickly to develop an effective plan,” said Jeff Trandahl, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s chief executive. “We’ll continue to work with all parties so that this relocation offers the best hope for sea turtles’ survival.”
The effort is being launched to ensure as many hatchlings as possible from northern Gulf Coast beaches have a greater chance of survival given the unprecedented environmental disaster in the Gulf. Roughly 700 nests are laid annually across Florida’s panhandle and as many as 80 are typically laid on Alabama’s beaches with as many as 50,000 hatchlings.
Normal mortality for sea turtle hatchlings each year ranges between 20 percent and 50 percent. Loggerheads produced along the northern Gulf Coast are part of the same distinct population as those produced on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
The loggerhead nesting season in the northern Gulf of Mexico begins in late May and runs through late August. After approximately two months of incubation, hatchlings emerge from their nests and make their way offshore to developmental habitats. Hatching season extends into October. This year, hatchlings from the northern Gulf of Mexico will be released on east coast Florida beaches to prevent them from entering oiled waters of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico.