While researchers scoop up endangered sea turtles coated in oil in the Gulf, a scientist warns that this summer’s fragile turtle hatchings could choke on tiny tar balls as they feed off the Space Coast.
Blair Witherington of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in Melbourne returned recently from working with a federal and multistate team to rescue turtles. They captured 64, mostly a species called Kemp’s Ridley, which is among the rarest in Florida.
Back on the Atlantic side, the worry is more about loggerheads that nest here in some of the highest numbers in the world.
As the eggs hatch in the coming weeks, the baby turtles must head immediately to sea, where they swim as many as 25 miles to feed on Sargassum seaweed along the Gulf Stream. If oil and tar foul that algae off Brevard’s coast, turtles could mistake the toxic bits for their favorite food.
Or petroleum could poison and kill that food before the hatchlings reach it.
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Image: A rescuer holds an endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, during a sea turtle rescue. Biologists found 64 sea turtles, most of them Kemp’s Ridleys, during a series of rescues in late May and early June. (For FLORIDA TODAY)