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FWC rescuing oil-impacted turtles with help from Gulf fishermen

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By The Staff

Although the effects of the oil spill are decreasing in Florida, the threat to wildlife remains. Biologists and commercial charter boat fishermen are teaming up to help oil-impacted sea turtles in the waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. In a cooperative effort with Deepwater Horizon Unified Command and partner agencies, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists rescue sea turtles while gathering data to assess the effects of the oil spill on sea turtle populations. Weather permitting, two rescue boats depart from Destin each day and head toward the eastern zone of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill area. FWC biologists are working with captains taking part in the Vessels of Opportunity program. Together, captains, biologists and crews have made several trips into Gulf offshore waters to rescue sea turtles and scientifically documented where turtles are found. Because of their experience getting close to large fish on their lines, these captains already possessed skills that help them maneuver their boats so that biologists can capture the sea turtles with hand-held nets. Biologists use GPS to record where sea turtles are located, as well as to collect data on environmental conditions at the capture location. “The methods we are using to find oiled sea turtles will help us understand how many affected sea turtles we are not seeing,” said FWC sea turtle biologist Blair Witherington. “This will give us a better understanding of the total number of turtles exposed to oil. The science is essential to assessing effects from the spill, but this does not overshadow our most important mission, which is to rescue as many oil-impacted sea turtles as we can.”