Nesting turtles give clues on oil spill's impact

By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI | June 1, 2011 | 6:58 AM EDT

PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, Texas (AP) — Scientists are closely monitoring nesting sea turtles on Padre Island this year, hoping to assess the impact the Gulf oil spill had on these reptiles.

The greatest concern is for the Kemps ridleys, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle. Hundreds of turtles, most of them Kemps ridleys, were found oiled or dead after the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up on April 20, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

This year, scientists will collect blood from nesting females and tissue samples from dead embryos. Scientists fear oil contamination may hurt reproduction.

For now, nesting numbers are up. But scientists say since turtles don't reach maturity for 10 years or more, the full impact of the spill may not be known for more than a decade.