FWC ends relocation of sea turtle eggs in Franklin, Gulf counties
Friday, August 13, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC), working with partners from the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA
Fisheries), announced Thursday that sea turtle nests on the eastern
portion of Florida Panhandle beaches would no longer be excavated
and transported to the Atlantic coast.
Biologists determined that the risks to hatchlings
emerging from beaches and entering waters off the coast of Franklin
and Gulf counties have diminished significantly. However, nest
excavations will continue west of the St. Joseph Peninsula pending
completion of additional risk assessments in those areas. The nest
relocations began in June to protect sea turtle hatchlings from
potential impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
"The decision to move nests was made after careful
consideration, and the decision to let the nests remain where they
are required the same evaluation and weighing of the information,"
said Kipp Frohlich, leader of the FWC's Imperiled Species Section.
"Just as we established protocols to move the nests, we developed a
set of criteria to help us determine when it would be appropriate
to discontinue or scale back nest relocations."
The FWC conducted aerial flights over the region to
locate sargassum, the floating seaweed that provides the primary
habitat for the hatchlings. An FWC vessel took biologists
offshore to evaluate and sample the sargassum, and, after careful
examination, they discovered no visible signs of oil.
"The patches of sargassum we examined contained
abundant life, including important prey species for sea turtle
hatchlings," said FWC biologist Dr. Robbin Trindell. "It is
very good habitat for sea turtle hatchlings."
Greg Holder, FWC assistant executive director,
directed staff to discontinue excavating any nests east of St.
Joseph Peninsula in Northwest Florida, while continuing to assess
other areas of Florida's Gulf coast to determine if nests in other
counties can be left to emerge naturally.
Soon after the April 20 disaster, biologists and
managers from state and federal agencies began planning for the
"The prospect of hatchings emerging onto a heavily
oiled beach or entering a near-shore oil slick was unacceptable"
Frohlich said. "That led to the difficult decision to move all
nests in this area. Fortunately, conditions have improved in some
areas and some of the beaches were spared, and we can now begin to
allow the nests to hatch naturally in many areas."
As of Aug. 11, 209 nests have been excavated along
the Northwest Florida coast, with 148 of the nests coming from Gulf
and Franklin counties. The eggs were carefully placed in specially
prepared coolers and driven by FedEx trucks to Kennedy Space Center
on Florida's east coast. The coolers remain in a climate-controlled
building and are monitored by Innovative Health Application
biologists until the hatchlings emerge. Since July 10, more than
6,000 hatchlings - from nests collected from Northwest Florida and
Alabama beaches - have been released into the Atlantic Ocean. Most
of the nests are from loggerhead sea turtles, which are a
threatened species. A few endangered Kemp's ridley turtle and green
sea turtle nests also have been relocated.
Nests on Bald Point, Alligator Point, Dog Island,
St. George Island, Little St. George Island, St. Vincent's Island
and St. Joseph Peninsula will be left in place, allowing the
hatchlings to emerge naturally. Nests to the west are still
being moved while officials complete their evaluation.
Hatchlings may be at risk in the western Panhandle from
beach-cleaning operations, especially those conducted at night.
Officials are considering other precautions they could take to
safeguard the hatchlings if the nests are left in place on those
beaches. Nearly 400 nests remain on Florida's northwest beaches,
and females will continue to come ashore to lay eggs through the
rest of August.
For more information on the sea turtle nest
relocation, go to www.fws.gov/northflorida. To report sightings
of oiled wildlife, call 866-557-1401. For more information on sea
turtle conservation, visit MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.