Thanks to commentor Siubhanduinne for the link to the NYTimes‘ upcoming article on “The BP-Spill Baby-Turtle Brigade“:
Loggerhead nesting season started this year, as usual, in May. Across the northeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, female sea turtles began plodding out of the water and up the beach, each burying a clutch of a hundred or more leathery eggs beneath the sand. The eggs incubate for about 60 days. Then a throng of tiny black loggerhead hatchlings, each only about two inches long, frantically boils out of the ground, all paddling clumsily with their outsize, winglike flippers. They scuttle down the beach en masse, capitalizing on a one-time frenzy of energy to rush into the water and push past the breakers into offshore currents. Once they make it there — if they make it there — they typically find their way onto mats of seaweed called sargassum. The hatchlings will drift passively around the ocean on this sargassum for the first several years of their lives, like children inner-tubing in a swimming pool. It’s a life raft from which, conveniently, they can also pluck snacks…
The hatchlings from this season’s first nests, however, were on schedule to scramble into the Gulf of Mexico only a few months after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, at what looked to be the height of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history. By June, the sargassum in that part of the gulf was heavily oiled. Soon, it appeared to be largely gone: incinerated in controlled burns, maybe, or hauled up by skimmer boats. And so state and federal wildlife agencies came up with a radical plan. Sea-turtle eggs laid on beaches in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle would be dug up during their very last days of incubation, packed into Styrofoam coolers and shipped to a climate-controlled warehouse at the Kennedy Space Center on the opposite coast of Florida. There, after hatching, the baby turtles would be released into the oil-free Atlantic. When I arrived in Alabama in late July, tens of thousands of turtle eggs, from hundreds of nests, were already in the process of being relocated — all during a point in their development when even a slight jolt to the egg could be lethal. In short, America was orchestrating the migration of an entire generation of sea turtles, slow and steady, overland, in a specially outfitted FedEx truck.
The government called this effort a set of “extraordinary measures being taken in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.” And as one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist told me, “We immediately knew it was more work than we could do on our own.” Fortunately, a vast and well-organized infrastructure of volunteers was already in place: people who, for years, happened to have been honing some of the very skills that the survival of these imperiled animals suddenly hinged on — not because they saw such a crisis coming, but basically because they really loved turtles.
What I found in Alabama was a classic story of ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. But the extraordinary things were so eccentric, and the ordinary people were so unassuming, that it took me a while to realize that. In the middle of an environmental emergency that seemed to demand dispassionate and scientific decision making, it was an emotional connection to turtles — and, in some cases, a slightly overemotional one — that wound up making certain people indispensable…
Always nice to start the weekend with a happy ending. Great anecdotes and “squee-worthy” pictures at the link.