Claims that endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles are being burned alive under efforts to clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster have prompted two groups to sue BP and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a notice of intent to sue in a bid to save sea turtles from what they called "the chaotic clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico."
“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center. “Newly hatched sea turtles are swimming out to sea and finding themselves in a mucky, oily mess. News that BP has blocked efforts to rescue trapped sea turtles before they’re burned alive in controlled burns is unacceptable.”
Padre Island National Seashore is a prime nesting grounds for Kemp's ridley turtles. While seashore officials bring turtle eggs into a hatchery to protect them until they hatch, the hatchlings then are released back into the Gulf of Mexico.
There are plans under way, though, to take turtle eggs laid in nests along the Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts and relocate them to eastern Florida where they, hopefully, will hatch and enter oil-free waters.
According to a release from the Center, a boat captain who had been rescuing sea turtles reported that BP started a burn operation before the rescue crew could survey the area and rescue the turtles.
Boats create a corral of oil by dragging together fire-resistant booms and then lighting the enclosed “burn box” on fire. If turtles are not removed from the area before the fire is lit, they are burned alive. The same Sargassum seaweed mats that are collecting oil also draw sea turtles, which use them for food and shelter. Unfortunately that leaves turtles, particularly young ones, vulnerable to being oiled and burned.
“BP is burning turtles alive and it is cruel, heartless and a crime we can’t and won’t allow to continue,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Sea turtles were critically endangered before BP created America’s worst environmental catastrophe, and every effort possible must be taken to rescue endangered turtles from this oil spill. BP needs to reverse course and help double our efforts to rescue sea turtles, not prevent their recovery.”
The letter also requested that BP and the Coast Guard place qualified observers in the Gulf of Mexico who can survey for, and rescue, endangered turtles and other wildlife.
According to the Center, "(T)here is a concern that BP is limiting access to spill areas to suppress information about wildlife damages. As of today at least 429 sea turtles have been collected dead in the Gulf area; many more have likely been injured or killed but not found. In addition to the Kemp’s ridley, four other endangered sea turtle species are found in the Gulf of Mexico: greens, loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks. They rely on areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico for nesting, reproduction, feeding and migration. All of these turtles are at risk from poisoning from oil and careless controlled burns."