Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals Return to the Gulf
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on September 10th, 2010
Over a million gallons of BP oil and dispersants is likely lurking in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, but near the surface, sea turtles, whales, and marine life is returning slowly. My friend and professional photographer Jerry Moran just shared more of his amazing work with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
Working together with Jerry, Bonnie flying her Cessna as On Wings of Care, Brock Cahill and others in the Gulf volunteering to help with our work through Sea Shepherd, and many others formed a tight family that is still in touch regularly. During a recent aerial survey, Jerry and Bonnie ditched the plan and used their gut instinct and in the process were rewarded! They encountered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, whale sharks feeding, and a sperm whale. Click here to view more of Jerry's photos from that day, taken out the window of a moving airplane, but sharp and clear.
Many questions remain about the effects of BP oil and dispersants to sea turtles, the Gulf ecosystem, and the health of residents of Gulf coastal communities. To hear the expert opinions of local Louisiana Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes leading health surveys and marine biologist and toxicologist Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, click here for the public radio blog and broadcast archive.
Sea turtles are still immersed and eating from oceans containing BP oil and dispersants. Monitoring of these Gulf sea turtles is taking place by professional sea turtle veterinarians scouring the habitat on boats. STRP rode along one of these trips and captured the following video of Dr. Brain Stacy and Dr. Joe Flanagan assessing the health of a young Kemp's ridley sea turtle then taking a blood sample from it for analysis.
The Gulf Spill - Australia's Kimberley next?
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on September 1st, 2010
Watch this news clip and you'll understand why I am so passionate about doing what I can to help protect this country for people, sea turtles and the planet.
Want to see it yourself? Join me on the Flatback Ecotour December 6 to 13, 2010. You will never forget it. Read more.
Offshore and Underwater Searching for Gulf Sea Turtles
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 23rd, 2010
The search for BP oil spill effects has evolved along with the current conditions, meaning our Sea Turtle Action Team organized an expedition with local expert marine biologists and SCUBA divers to document any BP oil and effects we could find underwater. Dedicated Sea Turtle Restoration Project volunteers had flown to the Gulf of Mexico to help us save sea turtles from the oil and highlight their plight. With larger numbers, we charter two boats and launched from Venice, Louisiana to reach deep water as quickly as possible.
Our goal was to reach the dense mats of floating sargassum seaweed and look in, around, and under for sea turtles and oil. Secondarily, we had identified several offshore oil rigs that our guides, Captain Al Walker and Scott Porter, had dove under for many years to document the coral reefs and the myriad marine life they support. Leaving the Mississippi River from South Pass, we left the brown freshwater behind and entered the deeper green water of the Gulf quickly. Below us the ocean depth dropped from hundreds of feet to over a thousand feet. I watched as Captain Al Walker was shaking his head in disbelief as our boats passed quickly through a barren ocean usually thick with sargassum mats at this time of year.
During our voyage offshore, STRP volunteers Deb Castellena, Winnie Lam, and Tiffany Lane took meticulous notes on all wildlife sightings. I had trained them to spot and identify sea turtles and other marine life, and was proud to see them rigorously recording their observations on our data sheets. In the other boat, dedicated Sea Shepherd volunteers Brock Cahill and Charles Hermison had the same data sheets and the same rigorous approach to observing and recording wildlife. As our boats approached the first offshore rig and potential dive site, we had not seen a single marine mammal, sea turtle, or patch of floating sargassum. Very depressing.
Scott Porter has used SCUBA to document the evolution of the underwater structures on offshore oil rigs from bare metal into diverse coral reef ecosystems where he regularly sees sea turtles. He works with Steve Kolian and others on project EcoRigs, documenting, educating , and advocating to preserve these habitats when others wish to completely destroy the rigs when the wells run dry. We partnered as dive buddies, and Al Walker and Brock Cahill formed another pair of divers to explore the underwater habitat and find sea turtles.
What we discovered was un-nerving and uplifting. Coral, fish, and sea turtles have persisted, but small marine fish and jellyfish were mysteriously absent. Our video caught a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle swimming by! Scott Porter described the dive and how we had descended through an unusual layer that he described as dispersed oil. I too had seen the layer of light brown, stringy substances floating in the water column at about 10-15 feet of depth, completely out of sight from the surface. Scott pointed out dark stains on his suit and on mine, oily brown marks that rubbed off on us from contacting the marine life. Neither Scott nor Al had seen this substance rub off on their gear prior to the BP oil spill. We took samples. All sea turtles and marine life must now cope with this dispersed oil and residue throughout the Gulf.
Keeping a close watch on the surface as we sped towards home, I spotted a line of smooth water that appeared off from the blue green of the surrounding seas. Our boat slowed and we all gasped as a big, brown streak of oil appeared! Once again the pens were flying across the data sheets, the cameras were rolling and clicking, and many water samples were taken. Our team did a thorough job of documenting the oil and marine life, and our samples have been sent to accredited laboratories for oil and dispersant laboratories.
The final stretch home through the Mississippi River wetlands along Tiger Pass revealed an amazing diversity of life in the rosy light of the setting sun. We witnessed hundreds of rosette spoonbills, herons, egrets, laughing gulls, and a few alligators. It was a long day on the water and a very revealing and rewarding experience partnering with local and international groups to highlight the plight of endangered sea turtles in the BP oil spill.
To see the entire expedition mapped online with additional detail and photos, visit Trimble's new application page, Map the Spill.
FOX News 8 from New Orleans covered our expedition on a nightly news exclusive, complete with footage of the elusive Kemp's ridley that swam by quickly
Onboard with the Unified Command Sea Turtle Rescue Team
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 21st, 2010
I joined the Unified Command on-water sea turtle capture team to witness their current operations; searching for sea turtles offshore in the sargassum seaweed, recording observations, capturing sea turtles, and evaluating the captured sea turtles’ health and oiled condition. Our team consisted of veterinarians Dr. Brain Stacy and Dr. Joe Flanagan, a two person boat crew, Jonathan from Inwater, and conservation group representatives David Godfrey, James Hammond, and myself. David Godfrey is the executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy and John Hammond, Regional Executive Director, National Wildlife Federation.
Our target search area was a large congregation of sargassum that had been spotted by helicopter over 40 miles offshore of Louisiana and west of the Deepwater Horizon wreck site. We reached our destination and began searching for sea turtles and oil. Our team was joined by a smaller boat that could maneuver quickly and more efficiently capture the sea turtles. The first sea turtle, and immature Kemp’s ridley, was captured in the first half an hour by the smaller boat. It was weighed, measured, tagged and cleaned out of sight of our team. After being carefully transferred to our boat, the team of veterinarians further inspected the lively young sea turtle and took a blood sample. No visible oil was seen on the sea turtle or the towel used to carry it, but the capture boat did originally report it as lightly oiled.
After four hours of searching in the sargassum we observed 2 Kemp’s ridley juveniles. I was both sad and disappointed that the professional team working for months in the Gulf could only locate a pair of Kemp’s ridleys in an area usually teaming with life and home to five species of sea turtles. Apparently, our boat team did not have either the range or time to travel the additional 30 miles to reach the forecasted “rip line”, the area where the clean green water ends and deep blue water begins. This convergence zone is the habitat that sea turtles prefer and the area where any remaining oil is likely to exist.
It was frustration to hear our suggestions on ways the sea turtle rescue teams could have been expanded or improved disputed because “too many regulations exist” to modify the incident response operations.
The sargassum that serves as the nursery habitat for sea turtles, cover for juvenile and adult fishes, and home to myriad invertebrates had no obvious signs of oil in the small area we inspected. Hauling some on deck, our team found juvenile crabs, shrimp, and some encrusting bryozan epiphytes. Fishes were observed under the biggest of the sargassum patches, usually patches bigger than a basketball court.
However, another massive “oil” pollution problem was readily apparent from the second we approached the first patch of the sargassum habitat. Plastic pollution and marine debris littered the sargassum mats at an alarming density. Hundreds of items could be seen in each patch, from plastic lawn chairs to plastic forks. Plastic bags that looked just like jellyfish floated near broken plastic buckets and were surrounded by sargassum. While BP is ready to vacate its cleanup responsibilities on the open ocean because their oil in now dispersed in the lower water column, there needs to be a new wave of cleanup crews deployed to tackle that plague of plastic polluting the essential sea turtle and fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Sad Return Trip to Barataria Bay, Louisiana
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 20th, 2010
Barataria Bay in southern Louisiana on a sunny morning is a beautiful sight. I had visited this huge embayment on July 9th, and was eager to see how conditions had changed in the oil soaked wetlands. I was joined by Gulf Sea Turtle Action Team and Oceanic Defense member Deb Castellena, Sea Shepherd volunteer Brock Cahill, and expert local marine biologists and boat captains. We set out to document the current conditions and check on several “Bio Booms” deployed to demonstrate new technology available to passively capture and remove subsurface oil from sensitive wetlands.
I hoped to see that BP had made significant strides cleaning the marshes, and was sorely disappointed. Once again, we witnessed displaced booms encroaching on endangered seabirds, weathered oil seeping from the marsh grass, and thick oil covering the frontal fringe of marsh islands.
Approaching one particular cove, I was hoping to see that the dark colors were natural muds in poor lighting, but as we grew closer, the bright reflections off the dead, black vegetation confirmed that oil still covered this entire area. The putrid smell of oil was obvious.
While some areas were a frightening black, a dull brownish red covered
the leading edge of vegetation along this entire marsh island. We
gingerly approached the grass, bent down and stuck to itself, and I
reached out to inspect it. Oil coated my fingers.
One very positive experience was witnessing the “Bio Booms” placed near oiled areas. They consist of thousands of “hairs” hanging below an absorbent boom. The hairs creating a huge surface area that bacteria cling to, creating a massive zone from natural filtration and biodegradation process. They had all soaked up quite a bit of oil, and hermit crabs had taken refuge inside the hairs.
Bycatch Blues in Louisiana
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 16th, 2010
With large waves and thunderstorms offshore, I changed plans during my Gulf of Mexico expedition and joined Gregg Hall on a Louisiana shrimp trawl boat for opening day of white shrimp season. Working undercover I was able to experience firsthand the operation of one of the deadliest fisheries to sea turtles in the U.S.
Louisiana shrimpers have long defied the federal government and have refused to use required Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their trawl nets. Hundreds of sea turtles have died this year in the Gulf this spring and summer, washed ashore with no signs of oil in them but full of shrimp and sediment, solid evidence of drowning in a trawl net. Before TEDs, it was estimated that Gulf shrimpers killed tens of thousands of sea turtles every year.
On board the small shrimp skimmer boat, we headed out into Barataria Bay, off of Grand Isle. Gregg has been documenting oil, and had a strong suspicion we would be seeing lots of oil along the bottom in the trawl. He had several absorbent booms that he used to sample both the surface waters and bottom for oil.
Seeing the bycatch dumped repeatedly onto the deck and scraped and shoveled over off the gunnel was a heartbreaking and disturbing sight. Hundreds of juvenile fish of all shapes and sizes, juvenile rays, cuttlefish, squid and spawning blue crabs were injured or killed in the nets and on the deck. While quick work by myself and Gregg insured over 90% of the bycatch was quickly and carefully swept overboard alive, may fish and rays has injuries from the harsh environment in the net and on deck.
Our captain cursed the use of TEDs, and had modified his boat and normal fishing grounds to avoid their use and to stay out of federal waters where some inspections occur. Sea turtles are rarely seen in Barataria Bay, but are common offshore outside of the barrier islands. TEDs are designed to save sea turtles, but in the back bays they would keep rays, large crabs, and large catfish out of the deadly nets.
There is really no excuse for such destructive fishing methods. If shrimpers and Louisiana elected officials can not agree to use new technology in their fisheries to save sea turtles and non-target species, these fisheries should be closed.
After a day on board the Louisiana shrimp trawler, I can confidently join our STRP board member and Goldman prize winner Randall Aruaz in calling for an end to all commercial shrimp trawling, which is destroying sea turtle populations and the habitat all life in the neritic zone depends on.
Saving Sea Turtles as a Summer Intern
Posted by Cole Chassy, Summer Intern at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project on August 2nd, 2010
While interning at STRP this summer I acquired a great deal of knowledge concerning local and global issues that are vital to the preservation of sea turtles and endangered marine mammals. The vast array of duties I performed throughout my internship at STRP provided me with an invaluable professional experience that will without a doubt be tremendously useful in the future regardless of the career path I choose to take.
Prior to my internship at STRP I was unaware of the immense amount of issues that affect not only endangered sea turtles populations, but also our environment as a whole at a local, national, and global level. Being a lifelong resident of Northern California’s Bay Area, I had no idea about the drastic effect local fishing customs have had on the endangered Leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific, or the effect plastic bags and plastic bottle caps have had on this population as well. I must admit that prior to joining the staff at STRP this summer I did not concern myself with the conservation of endangered species or with environmental issues to a great extent. However, after spending just a few months at STRP I have become so much more aware and concerned with these issues, and I now know first-hand of the major impact that these issues have on my life as well.
Some of the more significant duties I performed over the course of my internship at STRP include: legal research of various legislative acts created by the United States congress, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act; supporting legal action against long-line fishing activity which has an extremely drastic effect on sea turtle populations; creating a list of thousands of established scientists in fields related to marine biology in efforts to attain global scholarly support of STRP’s efforts to protect endangered Leatherback turtles in Costa Rica; and drafting several memorandum dealing with major issues regarding endangered sea turtles to a quite diverse collection of recipients, ranging from the head of Unified Command in charge of the overall BP Gulf oil spill clean-up effort, to Miley Cyrus, who prominently featured Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles in one of her recent films.
The most significant experience of my internship, however, was being at STRP’s headquarters while the plight of endangered Gulf sea turtles, mainly the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, came to the forefront of global media attention. Being the preeminent authority on sea turtle conservation, STRP was flooded with non-stop media requests from major media outlets across the globe. Listening in on several interviews dealing with the effect the BP Gulf oil spill has had on sea turtles in the Gulf region, then seeing that interview online or printed in a magazine or newspaper not long after was quite a unique experience to have. I even got to be on the local evening news!
Throughout the summer, one of the more crucial roles I had in regards to the BP Gulf oil spill was managing several blogs on respected websites, which provided detailed accounts of my supervisor, Dr. Chris Pincetich. On his initial trip to the Gulf region of the United States he led an endeavor to convey to the those concerned a legitimate account of efforts to save endangered Gulf Sea turtles, the overall BP oil spill clean-up effort, and the effect the spill has had on Gulf communities. On our CNN ireport alone we had over a thousand people view our photos that Chris had taken while flying over the Gulf of Mexico. These photos provided firsthand accounts of the Deepwater Horizon platform, where the spill actually occurred, in addition to a bird’s eye view of the extent that the oil had spread over the Gulf. I also had the duty of drafting a memorandum to Unified Command, designated as the key party involved in the BP Gulf oil spill clean-up effort, outlining certain legislative acts established by the United States Congress that all parties must abide by regarding the protection of local endangered species sea turtle populations.
The overall experience I had at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project widely exceeded my expectations. Each day was different than the day before, and every single one of these days I spent at STRP I learned something new. To anyone who wants to make a positive impact on the world they live in, as well as on their own life, regardless of the career path they choose to take, I sincerely suggest being an intern, or volunteering for a day or weekend at an event, or donating to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
100 Days of Oil and Agony for Gulf Sea Turtles
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 28th, 2010
|Chris Pincetich and Wallace "J" Nichols struggle to smile once back on the ground after witnessing thousands of square miles of sea turtle habitat impacted by the BP oil spill.|
One hundred days have passed since the horrific explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, a sad anniversary for all sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of life has been catastrophic for ocean dwelling organisms. Official tallies are likely only a fraction of the true toll of sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea birds that have perished from oil toxicity, oil fouling, starvation or deadly interactions with the fires, boats, and dispersants that crowd the incident response scene.
I've personally been following the disaster since the beginning, and looking back over the events of the last 3 months a few specific events stand out.
On April 23 I responded to a NOAA scientist inquiring to the sea turtle scientific community with an email jam packed with peer-review oil study references, and on April 28 I emailed this same NOAA representative expressing concerns about the "controlled burns" that started and the risks they imposed to endangered sea turtles.
On June 18 I sent members an action alert to Stop the Boom and Burn of Sea Turtles and submitted the first official proposal to Unified Command requesting that the Sea Turtle Restoration Project team of biologists and toxicologist join forces with the response units to increase sea turtle rescues. The action alert has been our most active this year and sparked a wave of alerts from our partners that generated over 200,000 responses, demanding BP stop burning sea turtles in their operations. Our proposal to Unified Command is still on their desk, as they "have not yet determined how to include" our team in their efforts.
On July 5th I joined an oil expert, a caring activist pilot, and Dr Wallace "J" Nichols on an amazing fly over of the Louisiana wetlands, over the oiled ocean, out to the "ground zero" explosion site, and back. Words can not describe that trip, so watch the video clip I shot as we flew away from the incident scene.
July 9th I stood on a beach that BP cleanup crews had not yet touched. A layer of weathered oil coated the low tide habitat that was as thick as an asphalt street. The marsh grass that secured this barrier island was dead. Oil coated marine debris, and there was a lot of it. In only 20 minutes, I collected dozens and dozens of plastic bottles that had washed up on this remote beach and loaded them on our boat to be disposed of properly.
July 12 I met Jean-Michel Cousteau and Fabian Cousteau and formed a partnership to add their support to our rescue efforts.
July 13 I performed an interview with Denis Bernstein for Flashpoints radio, one of my personal favorite NPR radio segments. He broadcast my discussions on sea turtles, the oil and dispersant toxicity, and work in the Gulf for over 15 minutes!
We are still communicating daily with Unified Command and Gulf partners to increase sea turtle rescue, keeping a close watch for any sea turtle threats in BP's operations, and preparing to advise on the needs of endangered sea turtles for the restoration planning effort that will soon be underway. It's been a long and arduous 100 days, but the Sea Turtle Restoration Project is ready for the next 100 years of work to protect and restore sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.
Kimberley Sailing Regatta to Help Save Sea Turtles
Posted by Teri Shore on July 22nd, 2010
A new international sailing regatta that will bring the world's attention to the Kimberley region has just been announced in Australia. This incredibly wild and unspoiled corner of Northwestern Australia is home to flatback sea turtles, humpback whales and giant whale sharks -- a divers delight! Turtle Island Restoration Network is thrilled to help sponsor and promote this innovative and adventurous sailing event to generate global support to protect the Kimberley from imminent exploitaton by Big Oil -- Chevron, Shell, BP. If you are a sailor or simply love the ocean and sea turtles, you'll want to check out this website and spread the word about the Kimberley Sailing Regatta.
Last year I visited the Kimberley and the tight-knit community working together to fight the destruction of these wild and sacred lands. In early June we hosted two activists who came to the San Francisco Bay Area to tell their story. In December, I'll be going back to help count flatback sea turtles and nests at EcoBeach. You can still join me as there is still space on our Eco-Tour with Conservation Volunteers Australia - but time is running out! Read more here.
Rescued Sea Turtles Recovering Well at Audubon Nature Institute Rehab Center
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 12th, 2010
Almost 100 juvenile sea turtles rescued from the BP oil spill are recovering well in the primary sea turtle rehab facility, the Audubon Nature Institute's New Orleans Rehab center. Most are housed in small, black tubs and fed daily by caring workers that take detailed notes on their condition. Medical care is provided to all the oiled and rescued sea turtles, and the staff at Audubon Institute is happy to report that over 95% of the oiled sea turtles brought to them have been treated for exposure and are still alive.
The majority of sea turtles in care are less than 3 years old and Kemp's ridleys. Only one immature hawksbill has been recovered, several larger and immature green sea turtles, and less than a dozen immature loggerheads, like the one above.
The behavior of Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtles does not allow them to safely share a single container. Only the green sea turtles are docile enough to share space, like these two young green sea turtles above.
Sea Turtle Restoration Project's Chris Pincetich and Dr. Wallace J Nichols joined the Ocean Future's team featuring Jean-Michel and Fabian Cousteau for interviews with Audubon Institute Staff about the rescued sea turtles. Jean-Michel Cousteau was very concerned to learn that the rehab center had much more room to care for oiled sea turtles, but current rescue efforts on boats are not meeting this need.
Habitat Destroyed by Oil in Fragile Louisiana Wetlands
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on
In Louisiana wetlands, huge flocks of birds are gone, schools of fish have virtually disappeared, and shoreline vegetation is dead and dying. A day collecting evidence of the wetlands destruction with the Gulf Sea Turtle Action Team was revealing and heartbreaking.
The scenes seen here are strong evidence that sea turtle habitat has been destroyed throughout much of their habitat in Gulf waters off Louisiana, which is well known to be a primary foraging areas for several species of endangered sea turtles. We confirmed that oil mats are sinking and smothering what was once endangered species habitat.
Grasses exposed to the oil are now coated brown and black, and areas that have neither been protected by oil booms or part of cleanup efforts are mostly dead by now.
We landed our boat on a stretch of beach not cleaned by BP crews and low tide and were devastated by the impact. Oil mats 4 to 6 inches thick were seen in the lower intertidal areas. Vegetation crucial to holding the entire barrier island in place was dead.
I focused half an hour of effort of sea turtle habitat restoration while a professional film and photography team documented the destruction. Plastic debris has killed countless sea turtles in the open ocean, and removing it from beaches is a simple was we can improve their habitat. This remote Gulf beach was inundated with plastic. Standing on the high tide dunes I could reach a plastic bottle to both my left and right sides without moving. Once I found a derelict cooler, I had even more ability to haul out this plastic debris. Much of it was oiled, and it was properly disposed of at the BP run marina site when we landed at the end of the day.
BP Beach Cleanup Crews Remove Oil and Add New Sand to Grand Isle Beaches
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 9th, 2010
BP cleanup crews are working east of Grand Isle, Louisiana, to remove oil
and oiled sand from south facing beaches. Four outposts of shade tents with workers dotted this beach and crews were actively cleaning an area almost half a mile long. Piles of new sand were ready for crews who typically cover the cleaned area with non-oiled sand as a final step in the process.
Our Sea Turtle Action Team,
consisting of Dr. J Nichols, Dr. Chris Pincetich, local photographer Jerry Moran, and Red Bridge Productions spotted several pods of bottle nose dolphins and over 10 species of birds,
and did not observe any sea turtles. Our local guide was shocked at the
lack of wildlife we encountered in over 100 square miles of surveys throughout the back bays north and east of Grand Isle.
The ocean water is impregnated with dispersed oil, and our team took a
unique video showing the red-brown colors of weathered oil dominating
the water under the surface. To see the underwater video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybAG7G...
Dolphins Living in Oil Near Grand Isle, Louisiana
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 9th, 2010
Bottle nose dolphins swimming in the back bays near Grand Isle, Louisiana, stir up red-brown sediment from the bottom of
Barataria Bay in this video taken by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. The suspended sediment is the same color as the weathered oil that has
covered this once thriving ecosystem. Several dolphin pods were observed, as
well as over 10 species of birds. Despite hours on the water in back bays and the Gulf ocean, no evidence of any sea turtles was seen.
Local photographer Jerry Moran has
grown up visiting this area, and says the numbers of birds and fish he
sees now is a small fraction of what is normal. Clearly, this ecosystem has been devastated. Boom surround a few islands but many areas are unprotected. Even with the orange and red booms, the island shores are scattered with oil and discarded cleanup materials. See some amazing
photographs by professional photographer, native Louisiana resident, and Sea Turtle Restoration Project in the Gulf, Jerry Moran, at http://nativeorleanian.com/
Interview at Audubon Nature Institute Aquarium
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 7th, 2010
We met up with Tom McPhee of the World Animal Awareness Society to add to his current film project. J Nichols and I toured them through the aquarium to see the four Kemp's ridley sea turtles that were rescued from the Gulf oil spill and are now on display. Once again, we shared our stories with visitors and docents. These little Kemp's are fun to watch!
Recovered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles Doing Well in Public Aquarium
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 6th, 2010
The majority of live sea turtles rescued from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill so far have been juvenile Kemp's rileys. Populations of these endangered sea turtles are growing, and the smaller, immature individuals are more abundant in the Gulf that reproductively mature adults. Four of these small Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovered from the oily Gulf ocean have recuperated and are now holding and on display at a public aquarium in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. J Nichols and I visited them today, and they were definitely the star of the show at the aquarium.
We spoke to many visitors and the aquarium volunteer docents about the plight of these endangered sea turtles, the current conditions in the Gulf we witnessed during our recent airplane fly over, and our efforts to protect all Gulf sea turtles from being burned alive by BP cleanup operations.
This little turtle below, LA-15, was swimming around slowly but was very aware of the visitors and my camera. He came back several times for more photos, but my favorite is this nice portrait below. This little sea turtle is a living symbol of how the courage and determination of sea turtle rescue teams can make a difference in the life of an endangered sea turtle.
Sea Turtles Ride the Gulf of Mexico Currents with BP Oil
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 6th, 2010
Juvenile and dying sea turtles caught up in the BP oil spill are moving with the cycling Gulf of Mexico currents shown here. Oil is likely to arrive in southern Florida in July based on current NOAA predictions and oil is likely to arrive in Texas as well.
The location of the BP oil gushing from the ocean's floor places it in the heart of several current patterns that will spread the oil and dispersants to all shores along the northern edges of the Gulf and outward to the Atlantic Ocean and perhaps into the northbound Gulf Stream, which passes by the entire east coast.
All 5 species of sea turtles are in jeopardy, and endangered Kemp's ridleys are at the greatest risk from this catastrophe. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project lawsuit has stopped BP from burning sea turtles alive for now, but our fights to protect and remove sea turtles from the oil spill continue.
Sea Turtle Search Over Gulf Oil Spill
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 5th, 2010
An expert team was assembled today for a flyover of the Gulf oil spill: Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols, STRP Board member and acclaimed sea turtle biologist and activist; Bonny Schumaker, pilot for On Wings of Care and experienced Sea Sheppard activist; an agency expert on oil spill chemical physics who is conducting detailed studies; and myself, Sea Turtle Restoration Project marine biologist and toxicologist. We had to pack light for our flight onboard “Bessie”, the 1971 Cessna that has flown successful missions for wildlife conservation on both hemispheres of the globe. Thunderclouds lined the horizon, but we had confidence we could maneuver to safe skies and departed in the morning hours on our flight path to cover much of the Louisiana coast and out to “ground zero” of the spill.
Our goals were to document the sea turtle habitat destruction, spot any wildlife in and around the spill, locate areas of dense oil for agency studies, and share our observations with the world.
For almost an hour we cruised at 80-120 knots in Bessie over bayous, beaches and open ocean seeing only tar balls, small islands of reddish weathered oil, and some large, thin slicks. Our agency expert relayed information on estimated oil thickness and age based on the color and type of reflections the oil produced, and I took notes detailing conditions, wildlife sightings, and GPS coordinates of all interesting observations. We spotted a school of approximately 30 cow-nosed rays swimming at shallow depths. We flew over the Mississippi River Delta and the mouth of the river, seeing oil slicks and failed booms along established oil platforms and boats leaving Venice heading to the open ocean, and the massive convergence zone of fresh water laden with sediment colliding with the oiled sea water.
The entire crew was heartbroken and amazed to see a distinct line stretching to the horizon with blue ocean on one side, gray seas on the other and weathered oil along the convergence. We had been flying over sediment and oil-covered waters the entire morning, looking at oil slicks on top of a dirty, oiled ocean. Further studies are warranted to determine if the distinct blue to gray convergence was only due to oiled waters or if sea floor bathymetry or sediment loads were also contributing. Our agency expert and observations by the team placed us far from obvious sediment convergence seen along the Mississippi. The immensity of the sea turtle habitat destruction is difficult to describe in words. A significant portion of one of the most productive ocean ecosystems is coated in oil, and the foul weather is likely mixing the oil and dispersant emulsions deep into every trophic level of sea life.
Smoke on the horizon marked the location of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the current oil recovery efforts. Over a dozen boats clustered around two floating rigs, one red rig on a square platform and one built into a vessel. Methane flares burned brightly from each rig, sending dramatic plumes of flames into the sky. Support boats sprayed liquids all over the scene, liquids that may have been seawater or dispersants. Bonny allowed us to open the windows to improve our chances at good photographs, and some of our results are stunning. The bad weather cleared temporarily, and to our amazement the ocean around the rigs was still blue. Even at hundreds of feet above the operations, the smell of petroleum inundated the airplane.
Our flight plan took us north to the remote wildlife refuge of the Chandeleur Islands. This island chain had been protected by thin strands of yellow and red oil booms, and most of these booms were now displaced. Hurricane Alex has wreaked havoc on the meager attempts to protect sensitive wildlife areas from the spill. Beaches were stained black and red as we flew high over the islands to ovoid contact with the thousands of sea birds below. Bonny knows this area very well now, having spent over 60 days in the Gulf performing flyovers to monitor the Gulf oil spill.
The final leg of the flight path was changed on the fly (no pun intended!) as real-time weather reports radioed to us allowed us to thread through narrow bands between massive thunderstorm clouds. Bessie bounced and weaved, and rain streaked across the windshield. Landing in high crosswinds was negotiated with skill by Bonny, and we were all extremely satisfied with the day’s observations.
No sea turtles were spotted from the air on water, in convergence zones, or on remote beaches. However, our team now has firsthand knowledge of the immense sea turtle habitat destruction present in the Gulf, which is growing every day. We will continue our efforts to provide transparent reports on Gulf conditions and activities in our effort to improve sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation from oil exposure, and habitat protections for future generations of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
Public Flocks to Oiled Beaches on 4th of July in Alabama
Posted by on July 4th, 2010
Local sea turtle groups are working hard here in Alabama to protect the few sea turtle nests along these white sand beaches from BP beach cleanup crews and the oil washed ashore. Teams go out every night to ensure protocols are followed which forbid lights along nesting beaches, and these team members all have OSHA training to ensure they are working safely in a toxic environment. Some sea turtle nest relocations have begun for Gulf beaches.
Thousands of Gulf residents have descended on oiled beaches to enjoy a break in the stormy weather and are swimming, picnicking, and playing on the oily sands and in the oily waters. On the beaches in Alabama, which have been hit hard by oil for over a month now, the BP crews have mixed oil into the sand. Sand coated tar-balls are mixed in all over, and the sand now has a orange tint where it once was white.
Luckily, sands in the upper dunes where sea turtle nests can be relocated are still pristine. If oil can be contained to the high-tide line and below, there is hope that the nesting habitat for future generations of sea turtles can be protected during this catastrophe.
Dolphins Take Refuge from Oil In Perdito Bay, Alabama
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 3rd, 2010
Offshore swells of 6 feet and more in the Gulf kept all BP managed boats in safe harbor again, delaying sea turtle rescue efforts another day. Frustrated by the lack of work in Destin, Florida, I traveled west to Alabama where oil has been landing on beaches for weeks.
Perdito Bay is home to several resident pods of bottle nose dolphins, and nobody knows them better than Captain Lori, the "Dolphin Queen." I visited Lori and saw first-hand the smaller, Perdito Bay dolphins were now joined by much larger dolphins that likely resided in the Gulf. Lori has seen a dramatic influx of these Gulf dolphins taking refuge in the back bays.
The back bays we toured had several pods of dolphins, some swimming right alongside oiled booms. Booms have been in place here, almost 5 miles from the Gulf ocean, for several weeks. The yellow plastic is now brown from prolonged contact with small oil slicks that blow in from the massive slicks offshore of Alabama. It was sad to see oil this far back into what appeared to be protected bays, but encouraging to know that some of the ocean's most intelligent mammals had found a safer place to forage and a loving caretaker in Captain Lori, the "Dolphin Queen".
Black and White - Florida's Beaches Under Siege by Dirty Oil
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 2nd, 2010
Sea turtles large and small are dealing with one of the most horrible substances I have ever touched: weathered oil tar balls from the BP oil spill. This stuff sticks like glue, and is all over the sargassum seaweed that I saw. This is especially alarming because juvenile sea turtles use the saragassum mats on the Gulf as a primary foraging habitat.
Since bad weather continues to delay the sea turtle rescue boats, I drove west from Destin to find the impacts of the BP oil spill on Florida's beautiful white sand beaches. I have heard scattered reports that oil and tar balls had been spotted on Destin beaches, but a brief trip I took yesterday was fruitless. Driving west past Fort Walton beach I was reminded of the many sea turtles nesting along this stretch despite the offshore oil and massive ruts in the sand caused by trucks allowed to drive on the beach.
As I began my walk along Navarre beach, the striking white sands and blue-green waves were dominant, with only scattered bits of sargassum and other seaweed at the high tide line. I picked up some big and small pieces of plastic marine debris that washed ashore, some bits of trash, like I always do at the beach. Then I spotted something unusual - a dead fish on the high tide line, looking very fresh. As I grabbed my camera, I realized my hand had sticky, weathered oil on it. The plastic debris had bits of it all over, brown goo that looked like dirt.
As I walked past the final public boardwalk over the dunes, the high tide line was scattered with much more seaweed, and weathered oil tar balls. The sudden appearance of hundreds of tar balls on the beach must have been due to the limited range of the BP cleanup crews. The fact that the tar and oil is associated with the sargassum means hundreds of thousands of juvenile sea turtles will be eating and touching these tarballs.
I drove home extremely sad knowing that I had only witnessed the tip of a very big, brown iceberg of oil looming offshore of Florida's sea turtle nesting beaches.