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Endangered Turtles Face New BP Danger

July 27, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Dr. Donna Shaver has been working to save the endangered Kemp's ridley turtle for thirty years. This year, the hatchlings she's releasing into the Gulf of Mexico along the beaches of Padre Island National Park in Texas face a new threat as they grow and make their way to the Gulf Stream to head north up the East Coast. Another thousand of seven or eight thousand were released this week.

Shaver says the threat to them, of course, is oil from the BP spill.

"It's a tough life for a hatchling out there. Predators - birds, fish - take their toll; this is one more threat to these animals and we hope the best for them."

The odds are stacked against the Kemp's ridley. Under natural conditions between one in a hundred and one in a thousand eggs will produce a turtle that survives to adulthood. At best, a few will return to Padre Island in 10 to 15 years, if they aren't victims of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Shaver says the decision was made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to move the incubating eggs elsewhere, perhaps to the east coast of Florida for hatching, as was done in the case of some other species.

"We hope for the best. We hope that our trajectory of increase is not tremendously impacted, but we don't know and we are fearful."

Turtle experts say last year's "class" of turtles who didn't make it out of the Gulf used floating seaweed to hide in from natural predators. But oil from the spill was soaked up by the seaweed and much of it is being burned off as part of the recovery process, cooking the turtles.

"Yes, we are troubled with the oil spill. We're worried that we know Kemp's ridley turtles are being killed. Some juveniles have been killed. We don't know what the impacts to the population are going to be. That remains to be seen in the future."

Adult Kemp's ridley turtles live off the coast of Georgia and Florida in the colder months and off Delaware in the summer.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - FL