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Brunswick nuclear plant hits annual limit on sea turtle "takes"

Courtesy: NOAA

The number of sea turtles caught in the Progress Energy nuclear plant’s cooling water system has reached the allowable limit for 2012. 

WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports on what experts say could be the cause of the higher-than-usual numbers – and what happens next. 

15 sea turtles from early May to mid July have been trapped in the Brunswick County nuclear plant’s cooling water intake system.   Four were Green sea turtles, five were Kemp’s Ridley, six loggerheads were taken – and all are protected under the Endangered Species Act. 

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials say exceptionally high tides from the super moon in early May washed in debris that damaged protective fencing.  Without the barrier, more turtles found their way into the system. 

Bob Hoffman of National Marine Fisheries Service works with the NRC and Progress Energy on the issue.  He says there are a few steps that will be taken if and when another turtle is trapped by the intake system. 

“We would work with them to try to solve the problem and we would re-initiate what’s called Section 7 consultation.  And we would work with them to either fix the problem so the take stays the same, or if there are circumstances that warrant it, we could increase the amount of take and do a new biological opinion.” 

Increasing “take” means raising the cap on the number of turtles that can be caught in the system. 

Both the NRC and the Brunswick nuclear plant, says Hoffman, have been pro-active when it comes to protecting sea turtles.  

Of the 15 turtles taken so far this year, seven were found alive and without injury.  In those cases, turtles are tagged and released. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.