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Gulf Coast turtle hatchlings released on Florida's east coast

By John Couwels, CNN
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Day-old baby turtles released in Florida
  • The turtles were released in Florida to avoid Gulf oil
  • Biologists say 700 to 800 turtle nests were in jeopardy
  • Project manager: Eggs at facility are faring better than the eggs in their natural habitat

Playalinda Beach, Titusville, Florida (CNN) -- One-day-old loggerhead turtles were set free adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center overnight, scurrying down a beach in the cover of darkness to begin their lives.

The baby turtles were hatched at a space center facility after being transferred from the beaches in the Florida Panhandle and Alabama.

Biologists believed 700 to 800 turtle nests were in jeopardy of perishing, with BP's oil lurking offshore.

"We would have 100 percent mortality if the hatchlings were not able to be translocated," said Jeff Trandahl of the Fish and Wildlife Foundation. "We are looking at relocating 70,000 to 80,000 turtle eggs."

Biologists have begun digging up nests and shipping them, courtesy of FedEx, to a large facility at the space center. So far, 13,000 eggs have arrived, and 2,600 hatchlings have been released.

The eggs are faring better than those in nature, project manager Jane Provancha said. More than 80 percent of the hatchlings have hatched.

Tom Strickland, assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, witnessed the removal of the eggs and the release of the turtles.

"Out of all the tragedies and the difficulty of the oil spill, there are great stories," Strickland said.

Biologists will continue to remove, ship and release the baby turtles during the turtle season that runs through September.