In effort to save sea turtles, egg evacuation is underway
PORT ST. JOE, Fla. — Biologist Lorna Patrick dug gingerly into the beach yesterday, gently brushing away sand to reveal dozens of leathery, golf ball-size loggerhead sea turtle eggs.
Patrick, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, carefully plucked the eggs from the foot-deep hole and placed them one by one in a cooler layered with moist sand from the nest, the first step in an unprecedented turtle egg evacuation to save thousands of threatened hatchlings in the oily Gulf of Mexico.
After about 90 minutes of parting the sand with her fingers, she placed 107 eggs in two coolers that were loaded onto a Fed-Ex temperature-controlled truck. They are being transported to a warehouse at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, where they will incubate and hatch before being released into the Atlantic Ocean.
The effort began in earnest along Florida’s Panhandle, with two loggerhead nests excavated. Up to 800 more nests across Alabama and Florida beaches will be dug up in the coming months in an attempt to move some 70,000 eggs to safety. Scientists fear that if left alone, the hatchlings would emerge and swim into the oil, where most would probably die, killing off a generation of an already imperiled species.
Each nest is monitored from the moment it is made and left in place for about 50 days. Then the eggs will be taken to the NASA temperature-controlled warehouse, kept at roughly 85 degrees, where they should begin hatching within about 10 days of arrival. The hope is that the ones that survive will return to nest where they were born after about 30 years, but no one knows if the experiment will be successful.