The reason I, personally, love to study sea turtles is because they rely on the same functioning and health ecosystem that people do. So we know that if our sea turtles are healthy and doing well, then so are we - the people who love to eat sea food and who appreciate that our beaches protect us from large waves and storm surges. (There are MANY more reasons why we, two-footed-land-dwellers, need and rely upon our oceans - but we'll save that for another day!)
Sea turtles, in fact, have been called sentinels of the sea - and can help us better understand the state of the ocean's health.And so, my interest in the sea turtles here in San Diego is directly connected with my interest in the welfare of the regional (San Diego, Southern California, and Baja, Mexico) ecosystem, community and economy. Likewise, the concern of the sea turtles of the Gulf of Mexico is directly linked to the concern for the welfare of the Gulf's ecosystem, community, and economy.
For three months now we've been hearing about the impacts of the oil spilling into the gulf. Like many sadly-common news stories, it is all too easy to just stop listening, put it out of your mind, and move on. Unfortunately, the problems and challenges we just don't want to think about anymore don't go away just because we change the channel on the tv. And so I'll continue to help with these brief updates mixed in with continuing information about San Diego's sea turtles.
As of Saturday, July 17th, here are the numbers concerning turtles affected by the oil spill. Visit NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration for full details.
- total number of sea turtles verified from April 30 - July 17 within the designated spill area
- 144 or 21%
- of the 674, the number of live turtles actively rescued on-water
- 464 or 69%
- of the 674; the number of turtles stranded dead
- 58 or 9%
- of the 674; the number of turtles stranded alive
- of those 58, the number that subsequently died
- turtles currently in rehabilitation
- total number of turtles stranded or captured that were found with visible external oil
- 146 or 91%
- of the oiled turtles, those which are currently alive
And of other news since the last post, 70,000 sea turtle eggs were relocated to the Atlantic coast of Florida, so that the hatchlings - who already have difficult odds (1 in 1,000) of surviving to adulthood - would not become immediately immersed into the oily waters of the Gulf. This plan has been initiated by many local and regional agencies, as well as the federal US Fish & Wildlife and NOAA's Fisheries Services. The relocated nests will be allowed to stay at their original Gulf beaches for as long as possible, so that there is a better chance for the hatchlings to become "imprinted" with their natal beach - that is - they will know what beach to come back to when it is their turn to mate and lay eggs.
NASA's Kennedy Space Center is hosting the transplanted nests, and the entire process is quite unprecedented. Nest-relocation is a common sea turtle conservation practice - but it usually involves moving the nest to another location at the same beach - really never are nests moved to an entirely different beach on a totally different coast.
Time will tell if this was a good choice - but the experts at USFWS and NOAA know that the hatchlings chance of survival if the nests are not moved are incredibly slim, making this action worth the risks in this instance.
To read more on the nest relocation, here is a general information article, the USFWS announcement and FAQs on the rescue mission, and the New England Aquarium rescue staff continues to update their blog on the rescue efforts.
Finally, I recommend viewing the recent "Turtle Talk" hosted by the Audubon Nature Institute to hear more directly from the experts involved in the turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and overall response efforts to the oil spill.