Sea Turtle Hatchlings Set Free At Padre Island National Seashore Despite Tar Balls

About 450 people turned out earlier this week to watch Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings released into the Gulf of Mexico. NPS photos.

Despite the presence of tar balls and tar mats in the waters off Padre Island National Seashore, biologists have released more than 100 Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Donna Shaver, the seashore's chief for sea turtle science and recovery, said Friday that the release on Wednesday of 116 hatchlings was preceded by consultations with the nation's top sea turtle experts and was in line with protocols established for releases under such conditions.

Whether the tar balls and mats were from the Deepwater Horizon disaster remains to be seen. However, the Park Service noted in its Morning Report on Friday that a 55-gallon barrel bearing a BP logo had washed ashore at Padre Island.

Yesterday’s collection of oil debris, which made landfall on South Beach, included a 55-gallon BP oil drum that contained several gallons of liquid. The drum was placed in the park’s hazmat facility for collection by the U.S. Coast Guard and for determination and verification of its origins. Hundreds of paper-thin tar balls, observed by the Coast Guard during overflight surveillance operations, have washed ashore in the Big Shell area of South Beach within the park’s boundary. The Port Aransas area, north of the park boundary, was subject to an eight-mile long band of sporadic tar balls making landfall. Cleanup efforts are underway, with Coast Guard officials in the park to assess the situation and to advise on response actions. The park is located over 500 miles from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site. As the volume of the spill increases, currents and strong winds could bring more remnants of the spill to the Texas coast during the coming months.

"The Coast Guard has come out and collected some samples and those are being analyzed now to see if they are part of the Deepwater Horizon," said Dr. Shaver. "The thinking now is that they are not, that they are coming up from the south.”

Over the years thousands of oil rigs have dotted the Gulf of Mexico, and from time to time there have been oil releases. Last summer a leak from a Shell Oil pipeline released more than 58,000 gallons of crude. Indeed, so many spills over the years have conditioned those who operate resorts along the Gulf to prepare for tar balls and oil coming ashore, according to Dr. Shaver.

“For many years there were tar-cleaning stations at the local beachfront hotels before the patrons go into the hotels, to clean the tar off their feet," she said.

Dr. Shaver currently is preparing for another hatchling release next week. The exact day depends, of course, on when the eggs hatch, she said. If oil and tar balls in the seashore's waters become an issue, the release could be moved to another location.

“The plan now is for areas where there is not oil lapping at the shores, where there is not oil immediately off the coast," she said. "Now if the situation changes, and oil threatens our coastline, then there will be contingencies where hatchlings can be moved to another area for release. Where they would be released would be determined where the oil is.”

Comments

Dear Readers: I had submitted a plan to the White House by mail two weeks ago that would help at least mitigate the loss of Kemp's ridleys due to the Gulf oil spill. My idea: have BP hire 20 or 30 idle shrimp boats and crews in Louisians; staff them with college students 2 or 3 to a boat, especially students studying marine biology; put children's wading pools with clean water on each boat. Send the boats out to drag for turtles with the TEDs S H U T. Haul the nets in EVERY 15 MINUTES AND NOT A MINUTE LONGER TO PREVENT DROWNING THE TURTLES. All bye catch to be released back into the water immediately. The turtles to be cleaned of oil in the wading pools by the students. After a dozen turtles are hauled in, the boat returns to shore for a more complete cleaning of the turtles [ a l l turtle species ] by shore-side specialists. Then the captured turtles are FLOWN to the Chesapeake Bay area by the AIR NATIONAL GUARD planes of the four affected states, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Some of the oil will have dissapated by the early fall when instince will drive the turtles to return to the Gulf of Mexico.
I could not get anyone in the Congress or the White House to pay attention or even answer my priority mail envelopes. I fear the situation will get much worse. Andrew Guthrie, Reston, Virginia. I covered the Kemp's ridley saga for more than 25 years, working for The Voice of America.

Those turtles are so beautiful...