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Sea turtles dying along SE beaches.

Record numbers of Kemp's ridley turtles were washing up dead on Florida and Georgia beaches late in 1988, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Southeast Fisheries Center in Miami. Between about 13 October and early December, according to NOAA, at least 62 of the turtles were found dead.

"This increase doesn't mean that the overall turtle population has risen," said Nancy B. Thompson, turtle biologist at the Center. "Instead, we suspect that there has been an unusual aggregation of Kemp's ridleys in this area, likely a result of the availability of crabs and scallops, their principal food." According to Thompson, the number of dead turtles had continued to grow almost daily, and represented nearly an eightfold increase over the average number found on the same beaches in past years.

NOAA scientists were examining satellite images of the area to see if unusual weather or other environmental conditions might explain the deaths. Other possibilities, including drowning in fishing gear or inside dredging equipment and deliberate injury by humans, were also being looked at. Turtles can easily become trapped and drown inside the funnel-shaped nets of shrimp boats, NOAA said.

None of the turtles found on the beaches was still alive, Thompson reported, and only a few showed any sign of external injury. Most had begun to deteriorate. In addition to the Kemp's ridleys, the leatherbacks and 15 loggerhead turtles were recovered by scientists and concerned citizens, bringing the total number of stranded turtles to almost 80. One of the leatherback turtles was reportedly entangled in fish netting.

All the species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are protected by Federal law and are listed as either threatened or endangered. The Kemp's ridley has been the subject of considerable research at the Miami Center in the past decade. It is the most endangered of all sea turtles and nests almost exclusively on a single beach in Rancho Nuevo, Mex. In 1980, the Center assembled a Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network involving state and Federal conservation and law enforcement authorities from Maine to Texas. The network compiles reports of dead or weakened turtles found on beaches or at sea. These reports are stored in a computer at the Center where they are available to researchers.
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Title Annotation:Florida and Georgia beaches
Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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