Turtles avoiding shores
Scientists are researching sea turtles to see if oil is keeping them from laying eggs.
Published: Thursday, September 16, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 16, 2010 14:09
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — Turtles have been scarce this summer, and scientists at the George F. Crozier Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab do not understand why.
"The number of turtles returning to the island has dropped, and studies have shown turtles will not beach because they feel a change in the water," said marine educator Stephanie Wright with the Discovery Hall Program, a summer minority internship. Wright said scientists on the island are unsure why the turtles are not returning.
"There are a number of reasons why the turtles are not returning to the island. It could be oil in the water, a change in temperature, or too many people on the beaches. We just don't know," Wright said.
As part of the sea lab on Dauphin Island, Wright educates students in grades K-12 on the estuary system in and around Alabama in summer camps, helping students to understand how sea animals and the ecosystem live together.
The sea lab educates students on the water and the animals that live in it.
Scientists at the sea lab on Dauphin Island are testing the water in the estuary system.
As part of Discovery Hall, a summer program at the sea lab, graduate students from colleges in and around Alabama research the estuaries and test plankton in the water to see if any oil is found.
The water samples from the April 20 oil spill have not been tested in any labs because they are waiting for permission from BP.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about 38 species of wildlife around the Gulf states protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, including the loggerhead sea turtle.
Wright said every summer the loggerhead sea turtles go to the Dauphin Island beach to lay about 100 eggs.
"Lately, because of the hot climate, the turtle eggs seem to be hatching in 49 days rather than 60 days," Wright said. The eggs have been hatching earlier than usual because of the high temperature of the sand.
"We relocate the turtle eggs so that they can't get trampled on and also so that they are out of the way of the construction workers – BP – when they try to do their jobs," she said.
She said the volunteer organizations, such as Share the Beach, are working closely with BP to make sure that no turtle nests are destroyed. For example, when the BP crews use their tractors to clean the oil off the beaches, a turtle volunteer group rides in front of the tractor to show where the turtle nests are.
She said the eggs were relocated along the beaches of northwest Alabama. Wright said the number of turtle nests that have appeared around the island has been less than 10. They expected to see at least 20.
She said only about 0.01 percent of sea turtles make it back to the beach to lay their eggs. She said she hopes more turtles will lay their eggs on the beaches because it helps her research and increases the population.
For more information on Dauphin Island sea turtles, visit www.disl.org.