AL Gulf Water Safe Enough for Baby Turtles

Loggerhead Hatchling

Loggerhead Hatchling, Frabuleuse Francesca Palazzi

For weeks turtle trackers in Alabama were diligently checking nests of endangered sea turtles, scooping them up when they hatched and then putting them on a Fed Ex truck to  Cape Canaveral, FL, where the water was free of the BP oil spill. Friday, the rescuers and baby turtles got some good news. Mike Reynolds, director of Alabama’s turle volunteer group Share the Beach says a ton of tests show the water is clean enough for the turtles to get released into their natural habitat.

“We’re releasing them directly,” Reynolds says. “They’re researching every day, sampling sea grasses and water to make sure it’s reasonabley safe.”  They won’t let them go into the gulf if there’s oil on their own beach or lights for a clean-up. Lights disorient turtle hatchlings terribly.
Since female turtles return to the beach where they hatched to nest, letting the turtles go wild in Alabama potentially impacts turtle population for generations. No one is sure where turtles that incubated in Alabama but were released on the east coast of Florida will consider home. But those born in the last one-third of the 2010 season won’t be confused.
In Alabama loggerheads (Caretta caretta) lay about 40-60 nests a year, with about 100 in each nest.  Volunteers know of 20 nests currently in the ground and have officially stopped looking for new nests now. When a nest gets close to “boiling”–the spectacle when flat sand suddenly erupts with dozens of baby turtles–volunteers put a cage over the area to keep predators away. The volunteers do an incredible job of tracking and protecting turtle nests every year, even when BP doesn’t dump oil in the gulf. So they know exactly when nests were laid and should hatch. Some volunteers even continue to do dawn walks of the beaches on their own, hoping to spot a late nest.

So far 73 baby loggerheads went into the gulf Friday night and another 23 on Saturday.
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