- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — A green sea turtle dug out a nest in the sand of this resort beach and left 124 eggs — the first documented case of the protected turtle laying its eggs in Virginia.

State and federal wildlife officials are agog by the discovery along a stretch of beach lined by vacation cottages.

“It was just kind of a big ‘wow’ for me,” said John Gallegos, a senior biologist at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

“It is a mind blower,” refuge Director Jared Brandwein added.

The green sea turtle, which is protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, commonly nests in southeastern Florida, although a few females previously have laid eggs on beaches as far north as North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The turtles, named for their greenish body fat, weigh 250 to 450 pounds as adults. They are herbivores, feeding mainly on sea grass and algae, and do not begin reproducing until they are 20 to 50 years old.

While it’s possible that green sea turtles have nested in Virginia previously, there was no record of it until now, said Sandy MacPherson, national sea turtle coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services office in Jacksonville, Fla.

A team of refuge staffers transplanted in coolers the leathery eggs to a secluded site on the refuge Tuesday morning, one day after the turtle laid them at high tide.

They moved the eggs in coolers and reburied them with sand from the original nest, placing them inside a heavy wire mesh cage to protect the eggs from predators such as raccoons and foxes.

They used umbrellas to shade the eggs from the sun while Mr. Gallegos carefully tried to replace them in the same order as the mother laid them.

“It makes sense to mimic as much as you can the natural nest,” Mr. Gallegos said.

The eggs are expected to hatch around mid-September. Because a nest this far north is so rare, biologists are debating whether to fly the hatchlings to Florida for release.

“Some think we shouldn’t be encouraging green sea turtle nesting here because it may not be well-suited for them,” Mr. Gallegos said.

While green sea turtles in Virginia are rare, nesting loggerhead turtles are fairly common, with an average of three or four a year nesting on or near the refuge since the 1980s.

This summer, six loggerheads have laid eggs there.

Populations of the green sea turtle off Florida and Mexico’s Pacific Coast are considered endangered.

Mature females lay eggs once every two or three years, and they are known to congregate in lush grass beds off the Florida Keys and Bermuda when they aren’t nesting. Juveniles spend time in the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

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