Hundreds of endangered baby sea turtles released off Texas coasts

PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, Texas - Hundreds of endangered baby sea turtles were released in the Gulf of Mexico Monday.

Federal biologists hope by the time they get as far east as the BP spill, the toxic oil will be under control.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service decided in June that Kemp's ridley turtles would be released off the Texas coasts as usual, since the impact of the massive oil spill has been minimal in Texas waters. Since then, between 7,000 and 8,000 baby Kemp's have been released.

The Kemp's loggerhead cousins are being moved to that state's eastern coast so they aren't  released directly into the oil's path.

Federal biologists say the turtles will be harmed if held in captivity until the oil slick is cleaned.

But some are worried the turtles' recovery will suffer a major setback due to the spill.

Kemp's ridley turtles have been on the endangered list since 1973.

Donna Shaver, the National Park Service's resident turtle expert and 150 volunteers and other staff patrols Padre Island's beaches, collecting the nests, incubating them and waiting for them to hatch. Once they hatch, Shaver monitors them over night.

When the turtles start scratching that means they have entered the critical "frenzy" stage and need to be released into the water immediately.

Beginning Sunday evening and throughout Monday night, groups of hundreds of turtles scratched for Shaver. Some 1,000 Kemp's were let loose throughout the night.

Volunteers raked the beaches to make the trek easier, held nets and stood in the water with sticks to protect them from seagulls.

"We don't just want to be feeding the birds and fish," Shaver said.

The decision to release the Kemp's was not easy, she said. However, scientists have learned that holding turtles captive at a critical developmental stage can be harmful, messing with their navigation and foraging skills and possibly damaging their chances for longevity.

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