As we continue to learn more about the damage of the Gulf oil spill to wildlife in the area, there is a bit of hopeful news: sea turtle eggs are being relocated out of the spill area and onto safer grounds.

Female sea turtles bury their eggs in the sand and then leave, abandoning their offspring to fend for themselves once they hatch. Under normal circumstances, the hatchlings have a challenge making it safely back into the sea. The Academy’s Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, says that:

The current rule of thumb is that of 5,000 sea turtle eggs, we can expect one mature turtle.  Of course that varies widely for many natural and human-centered reasons.  But the message in the number is that protecting mature turtles is very important.

NPR’s Debbie Elliott spells out why a newborn turtle’s life can be so difficult,

Baby sea turtles already have a deadly obstacle course to navigate as they scamper from their sandy nests in the cover of night. Lights can confuse them as they try to find the ocean. Sea birds can swoop down and scoop them up. And, once they hit the Gulf of Mexico, sharks, fishnets and other predators await. Up to half of hatchlings don't make it. Now the odds are even worse.

That’s due to the millions of gallons of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over the last few months. But thanks to volunteers, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, FedEx and even NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, hatchlings are now making their way from the sand into the Atlantic Ocean.

Delicately retrieving the eggs from the shores of Alabama and the Florida panhandle, volunteers are gently packing them in Styrofoam containers and shipping them (temperature-controlled, of course) via FedEx to an undisclosed location within the Kennedy Space Center.

According to the LA Times,

Hatchlings have already emerged from a nest delivered earlier, said Jane A. Provancha, the contractor running the warehouse operation. On Saturday and Monday evenings, she released 56 baby turtles into the dark waters of the Atlantic and watched them swim away. Turtles from about 83% of the eggs in the first nest have emerged and swum out to sea, she said.

(Pictures of the successful release can be found in the 80beats blog from Discover.)

And the work continues. Again, from NPR:

In all, the government plans to move 700 to 800 clutches of eggs — by far the largest turtle nest relocation ever. Ingram says it's a big experiment dictated by extraordinary circumstances.

Will the experiment work?  New Scientist reported conflicting responses in an article last week. We asked Nichols his opinion over email:

Moving any endangered species out of the oil’s path is a good idea.  The debate that surrounds moving sea turtles relates mostly to when (life stage) and where to release them.  Both decisions are complicated by unknowns, both in sea turtle life history and the dynamics of the spill itself.

He’s been to the frontlines of this crisis and will continue to do work there. You can follow sea turtles successes and failures on his website.

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