An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Sea turtle eggs get shipped to Atlantic Coast

  • Published
  • By Mike Spaits
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
The BP oil well may finally be capped, but Eglin biologists are still digging up sea turtle nests and moving the eggs to the East Coast as a safety precaution.

To date, three of Eglin's nine nests have been excavated and more than 300 eggs have been transported to Cape Canaveral, Fla., via Federal Express, in hopes of diverting the hatchlings from possible life threatening exposure to the oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The turtles like to eat their prey that hang onto solid objects like grass mats, and the turtle may mistake oil mats for grass mats and may emerge into it thinking there's food there and instead, ingest oil," said Kathy Gault, endangered species biologist with Eglin's Natural Resources section.

The effort is part of a national plan to relocate more than 700 nests from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic.  Beginning June 26th, biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency devised the plan to excavate the eggs from all sea turtle nests in Mississippi, Alabama and Northern Florida and transport them to the Atlantic Coast for hatching and release in an attempt to save as many as possible.

Rather than risk releasing the hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico and encountering oil as they entered, the agencies chose to relocate them with minimal vibration and close temperature control.

"Turtles need to breathe air, so there's potential they could emerge through an oil slick and absorb the toxins through their skin or they may eat it. Also, since the hatchlings can't stay submerged as long as adults, they have a much greater chance for exposure," said Ms. Gault.

Because turtle eggs take an average of 60 days to incubate, the eggs aren't moved until after they've been in the nest for 50 days, so the turtles are more developed and hardier. The fragile eggs are packed into sand-filled coolers, which fit snugly into pallets that have shock absorbers attached.

Eglin's wildlife managers expect more eggs before the nesting season ends in August.

"On average, we'll get approximately 24 nests per year," said Erica Laine, Jackson Guard's Volunteer Program manager. "However, so far this year we are well below our average."

Being a threatened species on a federal installation means Eglin is required by law to protect the turtles and more than 40 volunteers help manage and document the annual rite.

Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles that are very well-adapted to ocean life. A streamlined shape, large size and powerful fore flippers enable them to dive to great depths and travel long distances. Although at home on the ocean, sea turtles are tied to the land because females must leave the water to lay their eggs in a sandy beach.

It is believed that sea turtles return to the beaches they were born to lay their eggs. Nesting typically occurs every two to three years. A female may lay as a many as three to five nests within a nesting season at about 13-day intervals. Most sea turtles lay anywhere from 80-140 eggs per nest. The best scientific estimates available indicate only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive (anywhere from 20-50 years) to become an adult sea turtle.

Of the six sea turtle species found in U.S. waters, four lay eggs on Eglin beaches - the loggerhead, green, Kemp's ridley, and leatherback sea turtles. All are designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, except for the loggerhead, which is listed as threatened.

Endangered status means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range; threatened means it is likely to become endangered.