Loggerhead turtle hatchlings follow light of casinos to Biloxi harbor

Biloxi Sun HeraldAugust 17, 2012 

US NEWS ENV-MISS-TURTLES 1 BI

Andy Coleman, turtle ecologist for the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, holds a loggerhead turtle hatchling before releasing him in the Gulf of Mexico.

JOHN FITZHUGH — Biloxi Sun Herald/MCT

Part of a clutch of loggerhead turtle hatchlings followed the wrong light overnight and ended up in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor on Thursday.

"Today was very exciting," said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. "In my entire career on the Gulf Coast, this is the first time I have seen hatchlings."

The hatchlings came from a nest on the west end of Deer Island, just south of the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi. "Most of these eggs hatch at night, and they follow the moon." Solangi said. "The reflection of the moon leads them to the water.

"In this case however, "they followed the lights of the casino and it led them into the harbor," he said, unable to suppress a laugh.

"They didn't know what to do and they got stuck in the harbor."

"Evidently they went the wrong way once they hatched out. They should go towards the open water," said Andy Coleman, senior scientist and turtle ecologist with IMMS. The Department of Marine Resources alerted IMMS to the hatchlings, and a team of about six worked to catch them. The small turtles were primarily congregated toward the east side of the harbor, and were a challenge to catch.

"They only are about 3 inches big," Solangi said. "They are brown and very difficult to see.

"The hatchlings were swimming between boats and under the piers, but the rescuers persisted and caught about 18."The babies look healthy," he said, though they did recover one dead hatchling.

"A clutch is usually about 100 and some of them probably went in different directions," he said."Usually the majority will synchronize and then they will rush to the beach," Solangi said. "There is safety in numbers. Some of them will get picked up (by predators) but the strongest will make it."

The hatchlings have a finite amount of energy once hatched to make it to their offshore habitat. Coleman said they were collecting them and will place them where they need to be to continue their journey.

Solangi said they will take the hatchlings south of the barrier islands today "to where the sargassum (seaweed) is. That is their feeding grounds.

"We will check the nest over the next few days to see if more will hatch."The Deer Island nest is one of several the IMMS is monitoring, including two in Pass Christian.

"In 20 years, these are the first few nests we have seen," he said. "We don't know if the turtles are looking for new habitat or if there are too many turtles looking for food in a smaller space.

"This is very unique, very different."

Amanda McCoy, Sun Herald photojournalist, contributed to this report

Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2012/08/16/4130960/loggerhead-turtle-hatchlings-follow.html#storylink=cpy

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