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Live Webcast of a sea turtle nesting scheduled tonight

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SEBASTIAN — For the first time, the public may get to see a local sea turtle nesting without leaving their homes.

Tonight, the nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corp. and a Melbourne media firm will use a night-vision camera, satellite links and a Web site to attempt to show a loggerhead sea turtle laying eggs on the oceanfront north of Sebastian Inlet.

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And computer users may pose questions, which a conservation official will answer on camera at the nesting site.

"It's really a good chance to see a sea turtle" up close, said conservation Executive Director David Godfrey. The show is called "Shellabrate Life."

Filming takes place in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which protects 20 miles of nesting beaches at the epicenter of the leading loggerhead sea turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere.

Last year, about 11,000 loggerhead nests were laid in that area from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso. Similar numbers are being recorded this year. And prime nesting time is June and July, when the marine turtles briefly come out of the ocean to bury their eggs.

"It is one of the few places in the state where you stand a really good chance of seeing a turtle nesting," Godfrey said.

"If for some horrible reason we can't find a sea turtle, we will show a recently prerecorded tape of a nesting turtle," Gofrey said. "We're pretty confident we will find one, though."

But normally, access is limited to the government-controlled beaches, to keep the mother sea turtles from being scared off. So only about 1,600 people a year are allowed to go on tours of the nighttime nesting in the refuge. The tours are so popular, many people end up on waiting lists, said refuge ranger Joanna Taylor.

This year, Godfrey is offering to let everyone else go there via a live satellite linkup in conjunction with MeGotta Inc., a media company in Melbourne. The camera operator is accompanying one of the conservation group's turtle tours.

"It will be pretty cool," said Jim Sparks of MeGotta.

Sparks' year-old company largely is made up of graduates of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. "We all brainstormed about doing something for the good."

"We found that sea turtles nest here," so the group decided to help Godfrey's team, which was formed years ago by Archie Carr, the man after whom the refuge is named. Carr did pioneering research on sea turtles. That led to international efforts to safeguard the federally protected species, officials said.

Eventually, Sparks' company hopes to use its technology to bring live shows of conservation work with whales or other endangered species.

"It is a great way of educating the public using the latest technology," Paul Tritaik, refuge manager, said. "This will give a lot more people the opportunity, in a virtual sense, to get the same education they would get by being there in person.

"It is the next best thing to being there" without the mosquitoes, Tritaik said. "We hope more people gain an appreciation of why turtle protection is important."

WATCH ONLINE

Tonight people may witness a sea turtle nesting live on local beaches by going to their computers and logging on to a free Web site. The site is linked to a night-vision camera that will attempt to show a turtle laying eggs on the beach north of the Sebastian Inlet.

Likelihood: Very high. The nesting area is at the epicenter of the leading loggerhead sea turtle nesting area in the Western Hemisphere.

The camera will be on the beaches near the Bonstelle Park in southern Brevard County. The area is part of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge for sea turtles.

When: 9:30 p.m. and will last for up to two hours. Programming begins at 9 p.m. with a recorded educational talk about sea turtles.

Web site address: www.megotta.com.

Interactive: Viewers may send questions to a turtle expert at the nesting site. Answers will be broadcast on camera.

What viewers will see: A loggerhead sea turtle after it has come out of the ocean and started digging a nest in the sand. Egg-laying normally lasts about one hour.

Organized by: The nonprofit Caribbean Conservation Corp., of Gainesville, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. MeGotta Inc., of Melbourne, is providing the camera, satellite link and Web site in conjunction with Comlabs Inc., also of Melbourne.

Donations: Viewers may donate to the Caribbean Conservation Corp.'s Adopt-A-Turtle Program that supports research and rescue of sea turtles. For more information, go to www.cccturtle.org. The

Caribbean Conservation Corp. was founded by Archie Carr, a University of Florida zoologist who pioneered scientific research on sea turtles.




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