Groups that threatened to sue BP and the U.S. Coast Guard over endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles being killed in oil fires in the Gulf of Mexico announced Friday that they reached an accord to protect the turtles.
The agreement came as a result of a notice of intent to sue the energy company and the Coast Guard filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Legal Defense Fund.
“Endangered sea turtles need all hands on deck to work toward saving them from this terrible oil spill,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s great news that BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to take steps to rescue turtles and prevent them from burning.”
According to a release from the Center, the agreement came moments before the start of a court hearing sought by conservation groups to resolve the threats to turtles posed by intentionally set fires intended to burn off spilled oil in the Gulf.
Under terms of the settlement, BP and the Coast Guard "agreed to develop a protocol ensuring no endangered sea turtles will be killed during burn containment practices," the release said. "Conservation groups also want more assurances that qualified scientists and observers will be present at every burn to ensure that all turtles will be identified and removed before burns take place."
According to the Center, "(I)n an effort to contain the massive oil spill, BP is conducting 'controlled burns' that involve using shrimp boats to corral the oil by dragging together fire-resistant booms and then lighting the enclosed 'burn box' on fire. The 'burn boxes' are approximately 60 to 100 feet in diameter. Endangered sea turtles, including Kemp’s ridleys, that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico are also being caught in the corrals being created by BP. The turtle burning was exposed by shrimp boat captain Michael Ellis, whose comments were videotaped."
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.
The Center for Biological Diversity said that as of July 1, "594 stranded sea turtles had been collected dead in the Gulf area since the oil spill. Of those, 441 were dead when they were found and 153 were alive. Many more have likely been injured or killed but not found."