NWF Takes Part in Rescued Sea Turtle Release

Emmy-winning writer Rick Cleveland joins NWF oil spill response volunteer effort

08-31-2010 // Aislinn Maestas
Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Last week, staff from the National Wildlife Federation traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to observe the release of newly hatched endangered sea turtles. The hatchlings came from recently rescued sea turtle eggs taken from the oil spill-threatened shores along the Gulf of Mexico.

“For months, all we have seen is destruction and despair along the Gulf Coast,” said NWF Naturalist David Mizejewski. “It is a nice change to witness and take part in this amazing effort to do something good for Gulf wildlife.”

Joining David on the trip were NWF Regional Executive Director John Hammond and Emmy award-winning writer Rick Cleveland. As a trained NWF volunteer, Cleveland is helping with NWF’s Oil Spill Response efforts.

"We've all seen pictures and video of sea turtle hatchlings making their mad dash for the surf," said Cleveland. "But actually holding a box full of them, and feeling their vitality and their will to live -- and then watching 148 of them scramble into a glass-flat surf under a practically full moon -- well, that's as powerful an experience as any I've ever had. I only wish anyone who's ever had an interest in NWF could hold a box full of hatchlings for even ten seconds."

Relocation: Worth the Risks

The trip included a tour of the turtle hatchery facility at Kennedy Space Center, where the eggs are incubated and the hatchlings are kept until release. The eggs, which were collected from beaches on the Gulf coast, are part of an unprecedented effort to save the region’s threatened and endangered sea turtles. Initially, over 700 sea turtle nests were scheduled for translocation. Recently, because of improving surface conditions in the Gulf, relocation efforts have been halted. To date, nearly 250 nests have been moved and over 13,000 hatchlings have been released.

“If these eggs had not been collected, the hatchlings would have likely emerged onto the beach and crawled right into oiled waters,” said Mizejewski. “Even though there are some risks involved with relocation, it was the best option for turtle survival.”

Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity

Even before the oil spill, sea turtles faced a myriad of threats, both at sea and on land. The loss of nesting habitat, degradation of their marine habitats, and entanglement in fishing gear has landed seven marine sea turtle species- -five of which spend time in the Gulf--on the federal Endangered Species Act list.

To help sea turtles survive the oil spill and these other threats, National Wildlife Federation has partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Together, the groups hope to turn the disaster in the Gulf into an opportunity to improve sea turtle conservation.

“Sea turtles face an uncertain future,” said NWF’S John Hammond. “We need to take aggressive action to protect these animals and what remains of their beach habitat if we hope to help them survive.”

A Nighttime Sendoff

Sea Turtle Eggs

The trip culminated on a bright, moonlit night along the sandy beaches of the National Seashore located just outside the Kennedy Space Center. NWF’s John Hammond describes the event:

“As we approached the beach, the hatchlings, which were carried in three specially designed Styrofoam boxes, began to stir. Their tiny flippers scrapped along the sides and the bottoms of the carriers. Approximately 150 hatchlings were place on the sand, near the surf. Instinctively, and without hesitation, the baby turtles propelled by their tiny flippers made their way into the cool dark waters of the Atlantic.”

“It was gratifying to watch this part of the process. Prior to that day, I was able to observe workers harvest eggs from nests along the northern Gulf and store them in the specially designed Styrofoam boxes for transport to Kennedy. I also gained special access to tour the facility and watch the release of the hatchlings. The entire experience was outstanding.”

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