Making Sure Baby Sea Turtles Get a Safe Start

Crawling toward the sea

Rick Cleveland is an Emmy winning television writer whose credits include The West Wing, Six Feet Under & Nurse Jackie. Recently, he joined the National Wildlife Federation on a mission to protect the Gulf Coast’s next generation of sea turtles:

We spent most of that night on a stretch of beach in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge with sea turtle legend Dr. Lew Ehrhart, waiting for female sea turtles to make their way out of the water in order to dig their nests in the sand and lay their eggs. Watching one big loggerhead digging her nest, Dr. Ehrhart commented on the extreme effort it took on her part, having to fight the sheer gravity she doesn’t normally experience while in the water. “Why any of them even bother, I sometimes wonder,” he mused. It took her just about two hours to find her spot, dig out her body cavity, then her egg chamber, and finally begin to lay her eggs.

The next day, after getting clearance from NASA – yes, that’s right, NASA – John Hammond, NWF Naturalist David Mizejewski and I traveled to Kennedy Space Center, where we toured the warehouse where over 250 sea turtle nests had been relocated from the Gulf side of Florida. This is an unprecedented rescue effort involving no less than the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. By then, Jane Provancha, the Environmental Projects Manager for Innovative Health Applications, the company in charge of the effort, along with her able-bodied crew, had released over 13,000 sea turtle hatchlings into the Atlantic. To some, the idea of moving turtle nests from the Gulf Coast over to the Atlantic Coast is seen as controversial because it’s never been done before and no one knows what the outcome will be. One thing a lot of people don’t seem to realize, though, is that there are just as many sea turtles nesting on the Atlantic Coast as there are on the Gulf Coast. If this operation hadn’t been mounted, it’s 100% certain that every last one of those 13,000 hatchlings would have crawled into the oily waters of the Gulf.

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Photo via Flickr’s TurtleDude