Turtle rescue plan gets under way in Gulf of Mexico

An effort to save thousands of sea turtle hatchlings from being killed by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will start shortly in a desperate attempt to keep an entire generation of threatened species from vanishing.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service will co-ordinate the plan, which calls for collecting about 70,000 turtle eggs in up to 800 nests buried in the sands of the Florida "panhandle" and the beaches of Alabama.

It has never been done on such a massive scale but experts say that doing nothing could lead to unprecedented deaths. It is feared that turtles could be coated in oil or poisoned by food soaked in crude.

"This is an extraordinary effort under extraordinary conditions, but if we can save some of the hatchlings, it will be worth it as opposed to losing all of them," said Chuck Underwood, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "There is a chance of losing a whole generation."

Dozens of workers are fanned out along the coast marking turtle nests. Most of the threatened animals are loggerhead turtles which nest in northern Florida and Alabama. All of the sea turtles that venture into the waters of the Gulf have already suffered because of commercial fishing and habitat loss.

Dozens of Kemp's ridleys, a species of sea turtle found in Mexico and Texas, have been found dead since the explosion on the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon pumped millions of gallons of crude into the ocean.