Gulf turtle evacuees could get lost at sea

Turtles are being relocated from the US Gulf coast to save them from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – but this may scramble their navigating skills, marine biologists warn. As a result, the animals could lose their way to their nursery grounds.

The turtles – mostly threatened loggerheads, as well some endangered Kemp's ridley, green and leatherback turtles – use the Earth's magnetic field to navigate often hazardous migration routes. They travel from their birthing beaches of Florida and Alabama to the open sea and then on to their nursery grounds around the Azores and Canary Islands, where they live for years before returning to their home beaches to nest as adults.

The first batch of evacuated sea turtles, rescued as eggs from the oil-drenched Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches, to hatch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida were released into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday. The evacuation was part of a campaign spearheaded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to move all Gulf coast turtles' eggs – there are at least 50,000 – from their native breeding grounds to the unaffected Atlantic shores of Florida.

The eggs are being evacuated 50 to 53 days after laying, in the final stages of their 60-day incubation. Immediately after hatching they will be released along Florida's Atlantic beaches. But some researchers are warning that releasing Gulf coast turtles straight onto the sand on the other side of Florida could interfere with their navigational skills.


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