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Sun Herald News Article by JOHN FITZHUGH- August 17, 2012
Turtles that visited Biloxi get a head start on life in the Gulf


Some loggerhead turtles hatchlings got a 30-mile head start Friday on a journey that will last thousands of miles.

The 17 hatchlings were gathered Thursday morning after they apparently mistook casino lights for the moon and became stranded in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.

"Once they get into the water they go into a swimming frenzy," said Andy Coleman, senior scientist and turtle ecologist with IMMS. "These guys wasted a lot of energy swimming in the harbor and back channel."

The boat ride will give the turtles a better chance for survival.

"The open water can be a desert of sorts," he said, and it is a challenge for the tiny turtles to find the sargassum seaweed that hosts invertebrates the tiny turtles will feed on for several years.

"I feel confident that once we release them they'll keep swimming until they find some sargassum," Coleman said.

Once they grow, the loggerheads will head out of the Gulf of Mexico and get caught up in the North Atlantic loop current, going as far as the European coast before they turn south and eventually cross the Atlantic again and return to the Gulf.

"It takes several years to make that journey," he said.

Scientists put up some black silt fencing around the nest on Deer Island nest where the hatchlings were born to hopefully steer any other hatchlings to the south away from the bright lights of the city.

This year, the IMMS has rehabilitated almost six times as many Kemp's Ridley turtles caught by fishermen as last year.

"Last year, we only had 32 and we're up to 191 this year," Coleman said.

Friday's trip was at least the sixth to release Kemp's Ridley turtles and about 50 more are rehabilitating at IMMS in Gulfport.

The juvenile turtles will eventually grow from their current 6 to 8 pounds to be more than 100 pounds.

The Kemp's Ridleys have begun to associate area fishing piers as a food source, leading to fishermen catching more turtles. Signs posted at fishing piers give instructions for fishermen, including contacting the IMMS, where the turtles can recover from their injuries.

The turtles, however, tend to return to the same area where they were caught.

One Kemp's Ridley caught in Pass Christian was released and caught the next year in Long Beach.

On Friday, the Kemp's Ridley turtles were released just south of Horn Island.

"We try to keep them in the same habitat, but try to separate them from the fishing piers where hopefully, they won't be hooked again."

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