Biologists raising baby loggerhead turtles for conservation find disturbing gender trend

BEAUFORT, N.C. -- As part of a large-scale project to preserve loggerhead sea turtles, researchers from three institutions have been raising about 1,200 hatchlings though their first months and are now releasing them after identifying the animals' genders.

These ongoing studies are already revealing an unexpectedly small percentage of males among baby turtles collected from Carolina and Georgia beaches, which could have negative implications for the future of the entire Southeastern loggerhead population, the investigators report.

The scientists said this is the first time so many loggerhead hatchlings have been raised and studied so intensely. The research is intended to provide information critical to boosting the numbers of the threatened species. As a bonus, the selected animals are able to avoid the predators hatchlings normally face when they crawl from nest to surf to begin their lives at sea.

"Just as they emerged from the nest, we captured them, packed them in wet sand from their beach and transported them," said Larry Crowder, the Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

"The first time they hit the water, it was here," Crowder added, pointing to water-filled tanks at the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C., where loggerheads still in captivity are being kept in surplus Easter baskets for almost three months.

Scientists, conservationists and students have collected a total of about 1,200 baby loggerheads from 10 beaches as far south as Miami and brought them to the Duke Marine Laboratory, a Florida Atlantic University (FAU) facility at Boca Raton and the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.

About 500 of those have passed though Duke after being collected, mostly by volunteer turtle nest monitors, from four beaches in the Carolinas and Georgia. "There was a lot of driving to go get turtles," Crowder said. About 250 of Duke's

Contact: Scottee Cantrell
Duke University

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