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GULF SHORES, ALABAMA – The sea turtle population along the gulf coast appears to be recovering after the BP oil spill, more than a decade ago.
While nesting season wraps up in August, marine biologists are excited about what they're seeing along the gulf coast.
People are finding nests in places sea turtles haven't laid eggs in years.
Check out these little guys that just hatched on the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana. This hasn't happened in over 75 years.
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The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) have closely monitored the Chandeleur Islands since May as part of an effort to design a project that will restore the islands after they were impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill and numerous weather events over the years.
“Louisiana was largely written off as a nesting spot for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination demonstrates why barrier island restoration is so important,” said CRPA Chairman Chip Kline in a statement.
In Pensacola, the first leatherback turtles hatched in over two decades.
Escambia County Natural Resources Management says approximately 60 leatherback hatchlings made it to the gulf undisturbed, calling it a “rare victory” on a developed coastline.
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In Mississippi, volunteers found the first sea turtle nest on its coast in four years.
“It's really exciting,” said Dianne Ingram, the lead sea turtle restoration biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “With these potentially new finds, we're excited about trying some more in-depth nest monitoring in areas where we weren't really looking before.”
Ingram has been at the forefront of sea turtle restoration projects since the BP oil spill in 2010.
“There was quite a bit of impact from turtles,” Ingram said. “Overall numbers of sea turtle nests fluctuate from year to year for various natural reasons, but the first two years 2010 and 2011 when the spill happened and the response was happening, nesting really dropped.”
In 2016, the five gulf states impacted by the spill (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) were given over $20 billion to put towards 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 minimize their threats from humans,” Ingram said.
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While FWS leads the 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 becomes hooked or entangled in fishing gear, is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles. Many of their conservation projects have focused on educating fishermen on new techniques and equipment to prevent sea turtles from getting caught in their lines.
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While conservationists are hopeful about these projects, they say it's too early to directly correlate them to the increase in nests we're seeing. Ingram says this rebound is more likely a result of sea turtles being added to the endangered species list in the 1970s.
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