We've all heard about the sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico being in real trouble since the oil spill: of the five species that live there, four were already on the endangered list (officially) and the other is considered in danger of extinction. The numbers of Kemp's ridley sea turtle, for example, had dropped from 40,000 females in 1947 coming ashore to nest in northeastern Mexico to 702 nests in 1985—though thanks to concentrated conservation measures, that number jumped back up by 2009 to 20,000 nests.
Protecting them was already a challenge before the spill, and the spewing of oil and toxic chemicals into their underwater habitat has clearly exacerbated the situation. The saddest victims are the ones that were literally burned alive, but now that recovery is supposed to be picking up—what's their status now, more than four months after the spill? Here's a glimpse.
Venice, Louisiana, Orange Beach, Alabama, and Destin, Florida, have been the key points for biologists, who have been capturing and examining sea turtles for oil.
AP reports that as of August 18, rescuers had "taken in 444 oiled turtles that were found alive since April 30, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They found 522 turtles dead, though they've only confirmed that 17 of those had oil on them."
According to nola.com, 25 percent of the turtles captured since the spill have been released, and just yesterday four were released by Mississippi's first lady.
The spill had especially bad timing for the turtles because it hit in the middle of their nesting season, and scientists have been trying to take special care of the eggs.
So they have begun transporting the eggs to safety: in the first round in July, 107 eggs were dug up from the sand and transported to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, where it is hoped they will incubate, hatch, and then be released into the Atlantic Ocean. The plan is to do the same with up to 800 more nests—70,000 eggs—on Alabama and Florida beaches.
A report released by ocean conservation group Oceana recommends that further steps include, according to nola.com, "population monitoring, an improvement of sea turtle management by the U.S. government to reduce the number of turtles harmed and allow for population recovery, and a stop to offshore drilling, which will lead to the population's extinction."
Grist spoke with the director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, who said the first phase of mitigating the long-term effects is "to eliminate as many other causes of sea turtle mortality as possible."
He continues, explaining what that means:
We are leading a major effort to identify and fix problem lights all around Florida that have been disorienting hatchlings. In the past, we could only ask homeowners and businesses to fix their lights. Now, we will actually design a lighting fix and pay for the installation. Next, we will conduct a major initiative to expand the capacity of every sea turtle rehabilitation facility in Florida to care for more turtles and give them the best veterinary care possible. We will provide for new turtle storage tanks, state-of-the-art surgical and medical equipment, medicines, and supplies. There are several other aspects to the plan, including significant public outreach activities, predator control measures, and even dune restoration in areas impacted by recent erosion.
Watch Philippe Cousteau's vlog on sea turtle rehabilitation:
More on the Gulf oil spill:
1.1 Million Gallons of Toxic Chemical Dispersants Now in the Gulf
Nearly 80% of Oil From Gulf Spill Remains in Water, Threatens Ecosystem: Independent Analysis
BP Gulf Oil Spill Officially the Worst in US History