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Gulf oil spill: Turtle deaths spark legal actions [Updated]

June 30, 2010 |  2:31 pm

Deadturtle
Appalled that turtles may be getting caught up in BP's burn-offs of surface oil in the gulf, two environmental groups have put the oil giant and U.S. Coast Guard on notice that they intend to file lawsuits.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Institute notified BP and the U.S. Coast Guard of their intent to sue this week.

[Update 4:44 p.m.: A suit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Louisiana, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the legal action.]

“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,” Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the center, said in a written statement. “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.” 

Reports of the possible burning of sea turtles were first published June 17 in the Los Angeles Times. The turtles congregate in Sargassum seaweed, which has been scooped up by vessels and burned, without wildlife officials being able to search for stranded turtles.

Mortality rates for the turtles have been high this year, although the link to the oil spill is not clear. Many appear to have drowned, possibly due to becoming ensnared in shrimp nets. Commercial fishing is the leading threat to endangered sea turtles.

Wildlife officials have announced an unprecedented plan to relocate turtle eggs from nests on beaches threatened by oil along the Gulf Coast, transplanting them to Florida's Atlantic Coast. The move is bound to stir controversy: Biologists already acknowledge that some turtle embryos would die in the procedure. The eggs will be moved late in their 60-day incubation cycle to minimize the risk of deaths, officials have said.

Turtles annually dig about 700 nests along the Florida panhandle, and another 80 in Alabama, according to wildlife officials. Most of the nests are dug by loggerhead turtles, but the endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle also lays eggs in the region. About 50,000 hatchlings are expected to emerge around mid-July, officials say.

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: A dead turtle on an Alabama beach last month. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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