Gulf Coast sea turtles are recovering

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Sea turtle populations along the Gulf Coast are recovering after the BP oil spill a decade ago.

As the nesting season ends in August, marine biologists are excited about what they’re seeing along the Gulf Coast.

People are looking for nests in places where sea turtles haven’t laid eggs in years.

Check out these little guys that just hatched on Louisiana’s Chandelier Islands. This has not happened in 75 years.

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The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) have closely monitored the Chandelier Islands since May as part of an effort to design a plan to restore the islands after they were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater. Horizon oil spill and several weather events over the years.

“Decades ago Louisiana was written off as a nesting site for sea turtles, but this decision shows why barrier island restoration is so important,” CRPA President Chip Klein said in a statement.

In Pensacola, the first leatherback turtles hatched in two decades.

A leatherback sea turtle hatchling crawling toward the Gulf on Pensacola Beach.
(Stephanie Allen, Escambia County)

Escambia County Natural Resources Management says roughly 60 leatherback hatchlings made it to the bay unmolested, calling it a “rare victory” on a developed coast.

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In Mississippi, volunteers found the first sea turtle nest along its coast in four years.

Volunteers found the first sea turtle nest on the Mississippi coast at Pass Christian Beach in four years.

Volunteers found the first sea turtle nest on the Mississippi coast at Pass Christian Beach in four years.
(Institute of Marine Mammal Studies)

“It’s really exciting,” said Dianne Ingram, lead sea turtle restoration biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “With these potential new discoveries, we’re excited to try some more deep nest monitoring in areas we haven’t really looked at before.”

Ingram has been at the forefront of sea turtle restoration projects since the 2010 BP oil spill.

“There is some influence from the turtles,” Ingram said. “Overall numbers of sea turtle nests fluctuate from year to year for a variety of natural reasons, but the first two years, 2010 and 2011, when the spill occurred and the response occurred, nesting really declined.”

In 2016, five Gulf states affected by the spill (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) were awarded $20 billion to put toward restoration projects.

Some of these include retrofitting lights along the beach so turtles don’t get disoriented, adding more land to wildlife refuges, and beach cleanups.

“For sea turtles, the best thing we can do for them is to reduce their threats from humans,” Ingram said.

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While the FWS leads conservation efforts on land, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) focuses on the recovery of sea turtles in the water. NOAA says bycatch, when unwanted marine life is caught or entangled in fishing gear, is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles. Many of his conservation projects have focused on educating fishermen about new techniques and equipment to prevent sea turtles from getting entangled in their lines.

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While conservationists are hopeful about these projects, they say it’s too early to directly correlate the increase in nests we’re seeing. Ingram says the rebound is more likely a result of sea turtles being added to the endangered species list in the 1970s.

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