During the BP oil spill, endangered sea turtles were burned alive during clean-up efforts, and thousands of unhatched sea turtle eggs had to be evacuated to avoid contamination from oil washing ashore.
But all is not lost for marine animals in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Duke University study recently found that the number of endangered leatherback sea turtle nests at 68 beaches in Florida has increased by 10.2 percent a year since 1979.
The growth has likely been fueled in part by improved monitoring and protection of nesting beaches over the last 30 years, say study authors, but other less benign factors may also be at work.
“Nesting is increasing even where beach protection has not been enhanced,” said Larry B. Crowder, director of the Duke Center for Marine Conservation. “Changing ocean conditions linked to climate variability may be altering the marine food web and creating an environment that favors turtles by reducing the number of predators and increasing the abundance of prey, particularly jellyfish.”
Some beaches surveyed for the study posted annual increases of more than 16 percent, others as low as 3.1 percent.
Reduced populations of large predators, including the collapse of shark populations in the northwest Atlantic over the past decade, may be playing an even larger role in the turtle boom by decreasing at-sea mortality rates for juvenile and young adult turtles, says the study’s lead author, Kelly Steward.
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