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Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - The Alabama Marine Environmental Science Consortium

Project Overview

Genetic Implications of Relocating Loggerhead Sea Turtle Eggs from the Alabama Coast in Response to the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill

Principal Investigator
Samford University
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Abstract:

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill resulted in a wide variety of unprecedented responses implemented in an attempt to lessen the impact on ecosystems in the northern Gulf of Mexico. One such measure was a decision by the National Oceanic and AtmospheriC Association (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to relocate all loggerhead sea turtle eggs from the beaches in Alabama and the Florida panhandle (detailed on NOAA web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prlhealthloilspill.htm).This resulted in the evacuation of over 25,000 loggerhead sea turtle eggs from Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

All eggs were relocated to the mid-Atlantic coast of Florida (Cape Canaveral National Seashore) where the eggs were hatChed and the hatchlings were allowed to enter the Atlantic Ocean. This evacuation of eggs is a direct impact of the deepwater Horizon oil spill and it potentially has significant implications for the ecology of the loggerhead sea turtle population in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, evaluating the effects of this egg relocation strategy is ideally suited for the BP-GRI SGER grant under Theme # 1: Ecosystem Integration and Assessment.

The ecological and conservation implications of this large scale sea turtle egg relocation are currently speculative, yet it is plausible that such a strategy may be employed for any future oil spills impacting the northern Gulf of Mexico. As such, it is imperative that the impact of this egg relocation strategy be evaluated. The primary scientific concern is that this strategy may be altering the genetic composition of loggerhead subpopulations inhabiting the coastal waters of the southeastern U.S. (Encalada et ai, 1996; 1998; TEWG, 2000).

We propose to evaluate the genetic implications of relocating loggerhead eggs from Alabama in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (as well as during any future events). Specifically, we will be investigating whether or not the movement of eggs from the Alabama coast to the Atlantic coast is altering the genetic composition of the loggerhead population in the southeastern United States. Our null hypothesis (Ho) is that the movement of eggs is not altering the genetic composition, whereas our alternative hypothesis (H1) is that the egg relocation is altering the genetic compOSition of the loggerhead population in the southeastern U.S.

We are uniquely poised to conduct the proposed research because of our ongoing collaborative study with the USFWS at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Over the past 3 years we have been collecting tissue samples from hatchling loggerheads in Alabama as part of a collaborative study with the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. This grant will provide funding that will facilitate the genetiC analysis of these samples. DNA sequence analysis will be conducted on the mitochondrial D-Ioop control region of these tissues (Bowen, 1995; Norman et at, 1994; Rankin etal., 2001; Sears et aI., 1995), and the results will be compared to previously published data on loggerhead sea turtles nesting along the mid-Atlantic coast of Florida (Encalada et aI., 1996; 1998).


This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.
www.gulfresearchinitiative.org