Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oil and turtles

1st image) A Hawksbill turtle coated with oil is removed from a transport crate at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in Algiers, Louisiana; 2nd image) One of dozens of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles rescued in late May/early June; 3rd image) A sea turtle covered in oil swims off Grand Terre Island, Louisiana, on June 8; 4th image) A dead sea turtle on the beach in Waveland, Mississippi, on May 5th; 5th image) A nest of loggerhead turtle eggs in Sarasota, Florida.

On day 71 of the unabated BP oil spill that has so far spewed as much as 137 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, my thoughts are with the turtles. Since the blow-out of the Deepwater Horizon rig, 156 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been found dead, and although not all of the deaths may be attributed to the oil, not all of the dead turtles may have surfaced. Says Barbara Schroeder of NOAA, “It is very complex. Most of the impacts occurring to turtles are out of sight. Most turtles never wash ashore.” These turtles were hovering near extinction when their nests on the beaches of Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, were threatened by the 1979 blow-out of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which dumped 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. The eggs were airlifted to South Padre Island, Texas, where the turtles' nesting area is again threatened. To save sea turtles from the BP disaster, federal and state agencies will be digging up 700 nests - containing some 50,000 eggs of loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, and leatherback, and green sea turtles - and moving them from beaches in Alabama and on the Florida panhandle to Florida's Atlantic coast. "[T]he continuing environmental disaster occurring in the Gulf of Mexico requires that we take extraordinary measures to prevent the loss of the entire 2010 cohort of hatchlings produced on Northern Gulf beaches," reads the plan.

Sea turtles are among the animals biologists are most concerned about in the Gulf because they are among the most likely to see long-term population loss and because the oil spill threatens their population at every stage of life. Oil threatens the turtle hatchlings, which can be poisoned by ingesting the oil, can have their mouths sealed shut by it, or can choke on tiny tar balls. Among mature females, oil can cause deformities in their offspring and affect hatching success rates. Even if turtles survive their initial exposure to oil, studies have found that long-term and chronic exposure can result in damage to the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and brain. Externally, chemical burns can cause the skin of turtles to slough off. About the images of the oil-covered turtles, marine scientist Elizabeth Griffin Wilson explains, " That's just the tip of the iceberg."Still, we are compelled to scoop up and scrub off as many turtles as we can, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that BP is frustrating rescue efforts and incinerating alive any that are corralled in the oil burn-offs.

Here is a petition by Political Action that states, "'BP: Stop blocking the rescue of endangered sea turtles before you burn them alive in your 'controlled burns,'" if you care to sign.

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