The Great Turtle-Egg Evacuation

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The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a very, very sad story. No matter how you look at it, the whole thing is spelling disaster.

What is surprising to me is how the event is being labeled as an ecological disaster by the mainstream media. Even though the explosion of the oil platform has left 11 dead (plus 2) and 17 injured, these facts have been essentially forgotten as the yet-contained oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico and its surrounding shoreline. The focus is not unwarranted in most respects, as the consequences of this input of crude into the Gulf and associated cleanup efforts have and will have staggering effects on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.


Unsurprisingly, an already-struggling effort for effective sea turtle conservation is being hit with very difficult decisions about what to do. Several species of adult sea turtles are running the risk of being cremated alive when caught inside oil slicks being burned. Additionally, as eggs hatch from nests on the beaches of the Gulf, juvenile turtles would face thousands of miles of oil-polluted water in the most vulnerable time of a sea turtle's life.

This last situation is why the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Florida Marine Fisheries Service have developed a plan to relocate an estimated 70,000 sea turtle eggs from almost 800 beaches along Alabama and Florida. Read more here: The Great Turtle-Egg Evacuation


The plan is very risky for turtles inside eggs. As the article states:
"[...] within 12–24 hours of the eggs being laid, embryos attach to an oxygen-supplying membrane. So any movement of the eggs could cause detachment and death [...]."
A former student from my university completed a series of research projects on sea turtle conservation in the last few years which illuminated my perception of the effectiveness of current conservation efforts. This last point about the eggs dying if moved at the wrong point in time is correct, and is a major concern in these operations.

This topic has been a hot one in many email listservs I am subscribed to (especially C-TURTLE), and the point most interesting to me in all of this is the question of how the relocated hatched juveniles will respond to being transported to beaches several hundred miles from where they were laid. The previously-linked article continues to talk about potential affects of this operation on the relocated turtle's behavior:
Moving the eggs is not generally viewed as problematic. "We have adequate data showing that eggs moved with competence at that age have no difference in survivorship to those not moved," said Mike Salmon, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 
But the release could be another matter. "What we don't know is what impact it might have on other aspects of behaviour," says Salmon. 
"The $64,000 question is, if you take hatchlings that would normally emerge in northwest Florida to the east coast," he said, "will they return there, or to the northwest, where they should go?" Because scientists don't know for sure whether imprinting occurs in the nest or after emergence, this remains a mystery.
This point is one where conservation, ecology, and ethology intersect. My favorite! I anticipate some interesting research will come out of this project, especially if local behavioral research-heavy universities (e.g., University of Florida) are asked to become involved. So much is known about sea turtle navigation and spatial perception, but I do not know of any test which has analyzed how moving recently hatched eggs 500 miles away affects the survival of individuals. Normally, this is not a practical situation which would not require testing (and thus, I see why there is a paucity of research on this specific topic).


Finally, it is worth noting that Heppell et al. (1996) found that the most effective contributors to sea turtle conservation were not efforts directed towards very young sea turtle (particularly 'headstarting', or catching recently hatched individuals and raising them for a year before release). Instead, turtle excluder devices (TEDs) attached to shrimp trawling nets offer the greatest positive effect on their survival. I wonder how meaningful this project to move ~70,000 eggs will be in light of these results.


Thank you for reading, I hope you are doing your part to support relief and clean-up efforts in the wake of this ecologically-disruptive event.

Addendum: I could insert lots of opinion on the oil spill, but I'll pass for two reasons: 1) I'm not a geologist, and 2) no one wants to read my whining (not even me). You can read more about sea turtle headstarting here.

Ecological Drinking Words (EDW)

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This is a fun one.

Last summer when I was at UNDERC, I came up with the concept of Ecological Drinking Words (EDW, for short). Like many drinking games before it, the concept simple: read an ecological or biological article and take a shot of your favorite drink (alcohol optional) every time you see one of these buzzwords. It works because many of these words are not seen anywhere outsite of ecology.

Here is a short list of some of the terms we decided were up to snuff. These are all real words or terms (although my spell-checker doesn't think so):


Microhabitat/microclimate
Habitat Fragmentation
Herpetofauna
Riparian
Trophic Cascades
Microassays
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)
Cryptobiosis
Ecolexicography
Limnology
Littoral
Montane
Macrophyte
Diurnal
Crepuscular
Paludification
Ambotrophic
Advintituous
Evapotranspiration
Oligotrophic
Thermocline
Allocthonous
Autocthonous
Lacustrine
Sessile
Mesic
Xeric

And a special appearance from astronomy:
Entelescopinate

Please suggest your own and tell me your favorites!

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One Fifth of 2008's Research Papers Were/Are Open Access

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I recently found an interesting blog post and felt it was worth sharing.

The Great Beyond: One fifth of 2008's research papers now open access

According to this article and its associated primary literature article (find it here), roughly one in every five of 1837 sampled from a database of 1.2 million was open access somewhere on the internet. The article breaks down these numbers, but generally I believe this is a good direction for the transparency of science.

Reading primary literature is difficult enough, and without institutional access to online versions of journals, this task is made frustrating and (too often) off-putting.

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