Oil spill, beach cleanup, turtle nests don’t mix
By KIMBERLY BLAIR • Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal
PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. – The majestic, undeveloped beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore are attractive to nesting sea turtles searching for a quiet dune in which to dig a hole and deposit up to 100 eggs.
But throw in armies of noisy BP cleanup crews, all-terrain vehicles, beach rakes and Sand Sharks roaring around the beach 24-7, and it’s no surprise the number of nests this year dropped significantly.
The peak nesting and hatching season runs from May 1 to the end of October. Only 24 nests were discovered on beaches from Navarre to Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Johnson Beach during the season.
Of those, 12 nests were moved to the East Coast so the turtle hatchlings could escape BP’s oil. Last year 45 nests were found.
“This was our third lowest year ever since daily surveys started in 1994,” National Seashore park ranger Mark Nicholas said. “It’s common sense that the oil spill is not going to help them.”
Federal and state scientists are looking at how the spill affected all marine life. But finding a correlation to sea turtle nests may prove difficult because the number of sea turtle nests has been declining here since a peak of 73 in 2000, Nicholas said.
On 248 miles of selected beaches outside the Panhandle along Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts nest numbers were up.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, all three species of sea turtles that nest regularly on the state’s beaches – green, loggerhead and leatherback – had annual nest counts well above average for the previous 10 years.
Once all the Panhandle data is collected from this year’s nesting season, the data will be scrutinized to see what effect the oil spill and cleanup operations had on nesting, said Anne Meylan, a research administrator for the Commission.
The oil spill is just one of many culprits that can be blamed for the decline in nests. Sea turtles face a gauntlet of deadly foes.
“There are so many various problems from long-line fishing lines, loss of nesting habitat, boat hits to light pollution,” Nicholas said. “There are so many stresses on these guys.” read more.