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Ocean Springs Gazette Article by Angela Cutrer - November 24, 2010
Endangered Turtles Released in Gulf

Tuesday morning’s bright sunshine beamed down on a Coast Guard boat at the Small Craft Habor in Biloxi ready to ferry U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and rescue teams out to do a bit of reverse fishing.

Smiling with pleasure and satisfaction, the senator gently held one of the satellite-equipped sea turtles about to be released back into the waters of the Gulf. Surrounding the senator were those who helped save 40 of the turtles after 300 others had died as a result of this year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Dr. Moby Solangi, president of the independent nonprofit organization Institute for Marine Mammals Studies (IMMS), said that the satellites that have been attached to six of the turtles will help determine the migration patterns of this endangered species.

“They hatch in Mexico, and people eat their eggs or the turtles are caught in trawlers, and the oil spill killed more animals in Mississippi than any other state, though there was no oil,” he said. “We are hoping these devices will help us review the turtles’ migration habits and breeding ground behavior so we can tell on a daily basis where they are and what they are doing.”

Solangi said there are three main reasons for this project, which has never before been attempted in the world.

“We hope to find out the survival rate of the rehabilitated animals,” he said, “where they go and where their habitats are located. They are a global species from Mexico to the United States, so we will now be able to track them better with these devices.”

This type project has never been done before because batteries were too large for the turtles, but the project changed that. “As the turtle grows, the battery will fall off,” Solangi said. “Until then, the battery will switch off when the turle dives, and that will save energy.” The battery lasts for about a year.

“It’s a great outreach program as well,” he added, “since the public will be able to track live the turtles right on our Web site at www.imms.org. This is a great way to teach our children to learn about and care about our environment. The health and survival of these creatures go hand-in-hand with our health and survival.”

Solangi praised Sen. Cochran’s involvement with the project, saying the senator has been very supportive of the project, which “has done what it was designed to do.”

Tuesday’s event was a culmination of the senator’s tireless work to fund the project, which helped rescue and rehabilite the affected turtles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released in August $999,000 secured by Cochran in the FY2010 omnibus appropriations bill for the IMMS in Gulfport. The funding was intended to be used to continue development of the Center for Marine Education and Research and support exhibits, aquariums and life-support systems for the Ocean Expo Complex. Both the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University participate in IMMS research projects.

NOAA also awarded $400,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund community-based habitat restoration initiative. This competitive award will support the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Program, a consortium based in Ocean Springs that involves the Southern Miss and other university. The funding will allow university researchers to work with the NOAA Restoration Center to inventory, prioritize, implement and monitor hydrologic restoration projects during the next three years.

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