Oil Spill Proves Deadly for Sea Turtles

Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydasDeepwater Horizon Oil Spill Proves Deadly for Sea Turtles in Gulf of Mexico

Oceana Releases New Report about Impacts of Oil on Sea Turtles and Threats to Populations

June 10, 2010
Washington, D.C.
Contact: Dustin Cranor (dcranor@oceana.org)

Oceana, the world’s largest international ocean conservation organization, released a new report today that finds the Deepwater Horizon oil spill extremely dangerous for sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, sea turtles can become coated in oil or inhale volatile chemicals when they surface to breathe, swallow oil or contaminated prey, and swim through oil or come in contact with it on nesting beaches.

“Sea turtles can suffer both internal and external injuries from contact with oil or chemical dispersants,” said Elizabeth Wilson, marine scientist and fisheries campaign manager at Oceana. “In addition to regulating bycatch in commercial fisheries and protecting critical habitat areas, the U.S. government can now add ‘preventing future oil spills’ to its list of essential sea turtle protections.”

Five of the world’s seven sea turtle species inhabit the Gulf of Mexico for some portion of their lives. These species (green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and loggerhead) are all listed as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (facing a high and very high risk of extinction, respectively).

As of June 9, 32 oiled sea turtles have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 320 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the spill began April 20. While some dead and injured sea turtles are found by search crews or wash up on the beach, many others do not. In fact, ocean currents often carry these animals out to sea where they can sink or be eaten by predators.

“Our use of oil and gas is causing climate change and making our oceans more acidic,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director at Oceana. “As if that was not bad enough, it’s now killing endangered species. Americans can never be fully compensated for the loss of national treasures like sea turtles, caused by unnecessary and careless offshore drilling.”

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill can have the following impacts on sea turtles:

  • Oil or dispersants on the sea turtle’s skin and body can cause skin irritation, chemical burns and infections.
  • Inhalation of volatile petroleum compounds and dispersants can damage the respiratory tract and lead to diseases such as pneumonia.
  • Ingesting oil or dispersants can cause injury to the gastrointestinal tract, which may affect the animals’ ability to absorb or digest food.
  • Inhaled or ingested chemicals can damage liver, kidney and brain function, cause anemia and immune suppression, or lead to reproductive failure or death.
  • Oil on developing sea turtle nests can increase egg mortality and lead to potential deformities in the hatchlings that do survive.
  • The Deepwater Horizon oil spill could also destroy important sea turtle habitat areas such as seagrass beds and coral reefs, as well as reduce food availability.

Oceana is urging the Obama administration to ban further offshore drilling immediately and permanently. Oceana is also urging the government to determine the cumulative impact of human activities on sea turtles and reduce the number of sea turtles harmed to a level that will allow recovery of sea turtle populations.