Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
FROM THE BLOGS - OIL SPILL OPINIONS
The Florida Keys or Bust He Is That Guy by Matthew Coppens
Nature Trumps Man The Observation Post by Vicki Crawford
Drill, Baby Drill? Spill, Baby Spill He Is That Guy by Matt Coppens
Spill Baby Spill The World According to Me by Roger Berkley
Oil Spill Solution Found: "Stuff It" Life in the Slow Lane by Kathryn Taubert
What are we thinking? Collier 101 by Dennis Vasey
By the numbers
Beach, 2010 nest numbers, 2009 nest numbers
Barefoot Beach, 37, 33
Delnor Wiggins, 5, 12
Vanderbilt Beach, 40, 32
Park Shore, 28, 39
Keewaydin Island, 81, 100
Marco Island, 21, 39
Cape Romano, 26, 18
Ten Thousand Islands, 30, 27
Totals*, 299, 333
*Nest numbers are through June 21
NAPLES — Keeping track of sea turtle nests on Southwest Florida beaches this summer has taken on a new urgency.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has issued new rules for marking nests in order to speed a rescue of sea turtle eggs or hatchlings should oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster reach closer.
That means taking more precise measurements of nests’ locations and confirming that tracks left behind by sea turtles emerging from the Gulf lead to a nest and not to a failed nesting attempt _ something monitors call a false crawl.
“We want to be ready,” said Anne Meylan, who coordinates nesting beach surveys for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the science arm of the Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg.
Federal and state authorities say the threat of oil to Southwest Florida’s shores is low, but sea turtle experts worry about offshore oil being in the path of baby sea turtles as they start their scramble for survival in the Gulf.
The same ocean currents that are moving patches of oily sheen off west Florida are the same currents that catch the seaweed that serves as important refuge for baby sea turtles, Meylan said.
She said it isn’t known for sure how far offshore sea turtles venture after leaving Southwest Florida beaches.
For now, the oil isn’t close enough to trigger any rescue attempts, but nests won’t start hatching until later this summer and will hatch for weeks.
“Where that oil’s going to be when they come out (of the nests) is going to make all the difference,” Meylan said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has put in place a daring plan to move thousands of sea turtle eggs from oil-stained beaches in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
As the eggs near their hatching date, workers will dig up the ping pong ball-sized eggs, carefully pack them into boxes and ship them to a climate-controlled warehouse on Florida’s east coast. They would hatch there and be released into the Atlantic Ocean, according to the plan.
The plan risks disrupting the biological instinct that sea turtles use to return to their native beaches to nest, and experts aren’t sure how many of the relocated eggs will survive the trip.
With between 4,000 and 5,000 sea turtle nests laid on average each year from the Tampa Bay area to the Florida Keys, there would be no time to waste to launch a similar rescue.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t come down to that,” said Maura Kraus, director of Collier County’s sea turtle protection program.
Still, Collier’s monitors are among those that are checking suspected nests to be sure they contain eggs that might need rescuing.
If they do, monitors are using extra stakes and taking extra measurements _ called triangulation _ to pinpoint the spot rather than simply erecting stakes around its edges.
Meylan said crews also are being hired to document more precise satellite locations of the nests in case storms wash away the stakes _ a step Collier County already takes, she said.
With so many nests in potential danger on the west coast of Florida, wildlife officials are considering an alternative.
Instead of moving the eggs, rescuers would intercept the hatchlings after they emerge from their nest, she said.
When a 1993 spill in Tampa Bay threatened sea turtle nesting sites, officials put cages over the nests to catch the hatchlings and then release them in Sarasota County farther south, she said.
The hatchlings, which emerge at night, must be moved promptly so they don’t die as the day heats up, Meylan said.
Through June 21, Collier beaches had 299 sea turtle nests, each with as many as 100 potential hatchlings in them.
“Right now, we’re doing OK,” Kraus said.