US rushes to rescue 70,000 turtle eggs from oil

08:20, July 01, 2010      

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An effort to scoop thousands of turtle eggs from their nests to save them from death in the oily Gulf of Mexico will begin soon in a desperate attempt to keep an entire generation of threatened species from vanishing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will coordinate the plan, which calls for collecting about 70,000 turtle eggs in up to 800 nests buried in the sand across Florida and Alabama beaches.

It's never been done on such a massive scale. But doing nothing, experts say, could lead to unprecedented deaths. There are fears the turtles would be coated in oil and poisoned by crude-soaked food as they hatch and swim out to sea.

"This is an extraordinary effort under extraordinary conditions, but if we can save some of the hatchlings, it will be worth it as opposed to losing all of them," said Chuck Underwood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dozens of workers are fanned out across the coast marking turtle nests, most of them threatened loggerheads, which nest largely along Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches.

In about 10 days, they will begin the arduous process of excavating the nests, mostly by hand. The digging must be slow and delicate — aside from making sure the shells don't crack, the eggs can't be rolled around or repositioned to protect the embryo inside.

Then the eggs will be carefully placed in specially designed Styrofoam containers, like coolers, along with sand and moisture to mimic the natural nest. The containers will then be trucked about 500 miles east to a temperature-controlled warehouse at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

There, the eggs will remain until hatchlings emerge, and they will be placed one-by-one on Florida's east coast, where the turtles can swim oil-free into the Atlantic Ocean.

"There's a whole lot of unknowns in what we're doing," Underwood acknowledged, noting many of the hatchlings could die anyway because of the stressful moving process.

Some of the dead turtles were oiled, while others showed no outward signs of crude and are being tested to determine what killed them. The Kemp's ridleys aren't in as immediate of danger because oil hasn't been washing ashore yet in their nesting places in the western Gulf. But some fear those hatchlings also could eventually make it into the crude.

Loggerheads also have been found oiled and dead since the spill started, along with leatherbacks and green turtles, also protected under the Endangered Species Act.

David Godfrey, executive director of the Gainesville, Fla.-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, agrees this plan is the only option to save as many turtles as possible.

He said if left alone, the turtles will soon begin emerging from their nests and heading straight out to sea to feed in masses of oil-soaked seaweed.

Source: Agencies

(Editor:赵晨雁)

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