Nightly News   |  July 11, 2010

Race is on to save Gulf’s endangered sea turtles

Until the oil is actually removed from the water, animals – including entire species who were already fighting to survive – are at high risk. NBC science and environmental expert Jeff Corwin reports. 

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: Even fully containing the oil leak won't be enough to end the environmental catastrophe. Until the oil is actually removed from the water, animals, including entire species who were already fighting to survive, are at high risk. Tonight, NBC 's science and environmental expert Jeff Corwin joins us from Gulf Shores , Alabama , to give us an extraordinary firsthand look at a last-ditch effort to save a population of sea turtles . Jeff , good evening.

Mr. JEFF CORWIN (NBC News): Good evening, Lester . We have consistently been on the front lines of this battle to save wildlife put in jeopardy because of this oil spill . And we have once again exclusively witnessed firsthand as a team of rescuers attempt to save one of our world's most endangered species .

Unidentified Man #1: There he is, right there, right there.

Mr. CORWIN: Hours of searching the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico pay off.

Man #1: Got him.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, good grab.

Mr. CORWIN: A life is saved with one quick pass of a net.

Man #1: Awesome.

Mr. CORWIN: This young Kemp's Ridley sea turtle is among the most endangered species on Earth .

Ms. MANDY TUMLIN (Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries): I think he's not very happy with us right now.

Mr. CORWIN: It's coated in oil.

Ms. TUMLIN: It's definitely saddening, but you know, that's what keeps us going is we're going to try and save as many as we can.

Mr. CORWIN: These turtles instinctively hide from predators and even eat this lacy floating mat of seaweed called sargasm. It easily traps oil, poisoning the very same creatures that depend upon it for their survival.

Man #2: You ready?

Mr. CORWIN: Even worse, sea turtles commonly mistake floating ribbons of oil for sargasm. The good news on this trip, the team saves five turtles.

Ms. MICHELE KELLEY (Audobon Nature Institute): There we go.

Mr. CORWIN: A few hours later and 100 miles away, a medical team begins the

second part of this rescue: triage, treatment and a gentle, but thorough scrubbing. These turtles are survivors. But this rescue isn't yet a complete success until they're back in the wild, back in the Gulf of Mexico .

Ms. KELLEY: If we release those animals anywhere else, guess where they're coming back to. They're going to come back to the Gulf of Mexico , because that's what they know.

Mr. CORWIN: Lester , efforts to save these endangered sea turtles , they're not limited to the open waters of the gulf. For example, right behind me, that is the nest of a loggerhead sea turtle . Just weeks ago, there were many nests just like this dotting this beach. Tragically, most of them have been destroyed because of oncoming storm surges. This nest is now going to become literally a part of a modern-day Noah's ark as the US Fish and Wildlife Service attempt to move this nest from this contaminated beach to safer grounds along the coast of Florida .

HOLT: An important operation. We wish them the best. Jeff Corwin , thank you.