The story of turtles getting burned alive by BP, the lawsuits we filed to stop it, and related news about turtles and the Gulf oil spill have been published in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian in the United Kingdom and in blogs and other media outlets around the world. Here are links to some of the stories: Deal near to save turtles from Gulf oil burnings Reuters
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 1st, 2010
Oiled waves are now pounding the Gulf shores, and sea turtles are
caught in the toxic turmoil. The foul weather has suspended all cleanup
and wildlife rescue operations, but the sea turtles are doing their
best to survive and reproduce in the turmoil. Last night, 2 new sea
turtle nests were spotted and protected in the shores of Fort Walton
Beach, Florida. Massive ruts from tire tracks slowed the progress of one female attempting to reach the safety of the dunes, she turned around and nested among the ruts. Her nest was relocated to safety in the protected dunes. Thanks are extended to Sharon Maxwell at the South Walton Turtle Watch for the photos.
Thunderstorms throughout the Gulf in the wake of Hurricane Alex have delayed sea turtle rescue operations for another day. While based in Destin, Florida, I continue to help with local efforts to prepare for oiled beaches and assist with community efforts to prepare booms, and am in touch with the local sea turtle volunteer conservation organization and beach patrols.
The Vessels of Opportunity is a BP-sponsored program that hired boat captains to assist with oil spill operations. I located the tiny office established in Destin by BP, not too hard considering it is surrounded by packed oil booms waiting to be deployed. When a new truck arrived full of cleanup materials, I volunteered with the locals to unload the truck. With all of us working, we made quick work of a large task.
I met with the boat captain, who is a doctor and regularly volunteers to assist with sea turtle recovery on the water near military dredging operations, and we began preparations for our time at sea. The boat is a twin hull design that can cruise through smooth waters at 28 knots, a fast clip that should allow us to reach our target locations quickly. Our safety gear, sea turtle capture equipment, and oil cleanup materials are loaded on the boat and ready to go. We are hoping tomorrow's weather will clear enough to ensure a safe voyage.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 30th, 2010
While waiting for stormy weather to clear and sea turtle boat rescues to resume, I have been meeting with agency officials, marine life care facilities and local community organizers to expand the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's involvement in the oil spill response. The Unified Command cleanup efforts have been very prohibitive of volunteer help from local communities, but slowly this situation is changing for the good of the struggling sea turtles and coastal communities.
I meet today with agency officials in Florida to increase the scope of sea turtle rescue operations in the Gulf, and we expect to be in the water bringing in sea turtles once weather from tropical storm Alex clears up. A new oiled sea turtle rehabilitation center is preparing to be online to partner with our efforts. Gulf World, located in Panama City Beach, has handled over one thousand sea turtles during cold-stun events and is now equipped with new pumps, tanks, and medical equipment to care for the oiled sea turtles our team recovers from the spill. The Gulf World staff are qualified experts, friendly caretakers, and are dedicated to helping sea turtles in the Gulf.
Matter of Trust is a volunteer-based nonprofit based in northern California that has expanded exponentially in Gulf states to respond to the BP oil spill. I visited their warehouse in Fort Walton Beach, volunteered and helped construct oil booms from donated hair and stockings. These booms have excellent oil absorbing properties, far better than the standard booms used now by BP. After working alongside the locals, we discussed ways to channel more volunteer help to increase efforts for beach cleanup and for wildlife rescue and care. The long night ended with a visit from a local Coast Guard officer who is very interested in learning more, helping test the booms, and incorporating more of this excellent community-based project into the official spill response.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is headed to the Gulf of Mexico to launch our Gulf Spill Sea Turtle Rescue and Action Team. Dr. Chris Pincetich has been posting daily updates since the spill began and shortly he will be posting news from the front lines of the oil spill. See the Daily Updates. Follow his Gulf reports beginning next week by signing up to our Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter @seaturtles_org
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 23rd, 2010
With at least 535 sea turtles impacted by the deadly duo of the oil spill and commercial fishers taking shortcuts in the confusion that is the Gulf of Mexico, it is clear that action must be taken immediately to improve recovery operations. Our alert last week woke up the nation to the fact that endangered sea turtles were being burned alive in BP's oil corrals to "burn boxes". This week, officials at Unified Command are now promising to place biological observers on burn boats to report sea turtles, and boat operations to recover sea turtles may increase soon.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 15th, 2010
A total of 430 sea turtles have now
been impacted by the deadly duo of commercial fishing and offshore oil
in the Gulf. Eleven new sea turtles have been rescued alive and oiled today. An
additional 8 sea turtles were reported as dead strandings, with the
presence of oil still "pending".
Of all wildlife collected in the
wake of the BP oil spill, the presence or absence of visible oil was
determined on 99.3% of birds, 90.3% of marine mammals, and only 39.7%
of sea turtles. To download the data, click here.
With trained fish
and wildlife professionals handling all the official activities, it
remains a mystery as to why the presence or absence of visible oil on
over 60% of the sea turtles is still not known.
"I have made
written and verbal requests for the results of the sea turtle necropsy
tissue sample analysis, and have not received a response from NOAA or
the wildlife care professionals. The death of each endangered sea
turtle can not be taken lightly. Our public agencies have a duty under
the Endangered Species Act to determine causes of death and take
enforcement action where needed," says Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea
Turtle Restoration Project.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is
investigating the irregularities of the current cause of death of the
hundreds of sea turtles this year being tallied by the Consolidated
Fish and Wildlife officials. We have led efforts in the Gulf to reduce
sea turtle deaths for over a decade. Intense commercial fishing
pressure continues to be the leading killer of endangered sea turtles,
and we intend to "keep our boot on the neck" of our public officials
until this mystery of hundreds of stranded Gulf sea turtles is solved.
Dr. Mike Ziccardi from the University of
California at Davis, head of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and
currently stationed in Louisiana overseeing sea turtle rehabilitation,
reported today that 75 sea turtle necropsies have been performed, and
no signs of oil internally or externally were detected on these first
75 dead sea turtles.
Shrimping nets continue to be the lead
suspect in the deaths of hundreds of sea turtles this spring that have
washed ashore without any signs of oil exposure.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 9th, 2010
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project joined a protest rally on World Oceans Day to share the catastrophic story of endangered sea turtles that are dying by the hundreds in the Gulf of Mexico due to the BP oil spill. Dozens of protesters gained the attention of BP executives as they marched, shouted, and shared their outrage outside of BP's corporate offices in downtown San Francisco, California. STRP's Chris Pincetich led volunteers and interns Angie Rodoni, Cole Chase, and Stephanie Wang to get petitions signed, pass out STRP newsletters, and share the plight of the endangered Kemp's ridleys with all who attended. The event was coordinated with a nation-wide effort by the group Seize BP to protest against BP's corporate blunders, cover-up, and slow response to address the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
In the wake of World Ocean's Day, experts detail BP's cover-up that
millions of gallons of dirty oil could be leaking EACH DAY into the
Gulf of Mexico.
BP's claim that it is capturing 630,000
gallons a day in it's top hat pipe combined with new estimates from the
first high-definition underwater video released by BP yesterday support
a worst-case scenario estimate.
Ira Leifer, a University of California researcher and member of the Obama
Administration's Flow Rate Technical Group said that BP's
leaking Gulf oil well could be leeching BP's estimated worst-case flow of
100,000 barrels a day.
"In the data I've seen, there's nothing inconsistent with BP's worst case scenario," Leifer was quoted as saying.
100,000 barrels X 42 gallons per barrel = 4,200,000 gallons per day
turtles throughout the Gulf continue to nest, but in much lower n umbers
than observed at this time last year. The Incident Command released the
following sea turtle statistics today
322 total sea turtles verified to date within the “designated spill
272 stranded (dead or debilitated)
50 of the stranded were found alive
3 recovered alive but died in rehab
3 turtles released alive
25 live turtles in rehabilitation
To date, visible evidence of oil has been documented
externally on 28 live sea turtles and 2 dead sea turtle captured during
directed turtle surveys. Of the272 stranded, 55 full necropsies have been performed.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 8th, 2010
Each year, the state of Texas and the federal government close shrimp fishing from the middle of May for two months. The shrimp grow bigger and then sell for more money. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are spared during their peak nesting season on Texas beaches.
This year, because of the oil spill and fishery closures in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, hundreds more shrimp boats could rush to Texas waters from other states in July when the closure ends. It could be a death sentence for endangered sea turtles unless every boat is equipped with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) that installed properly.
In April, 25 juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtles washed up dead in the Galveston, Texas, area in April when shrimping activity increased as it does each year. Law enforcement responded and on April 26, four of the ten shrimp boats boarded were found with TEDs not installed properly.
Increased law enforcement might prevent the injury and deaths of hundreds of sea turtles in Texas waters. Shrimpers who do not use TEDs correctly or disable them must not be allowed to fish in Texas waters. Both state and federal law enforcement officers as well as the Coast Guard must be present to board shrimp boats.
Yes, we feel sorry for shrimpers in Gulf states suffering from the effects of the oil spill, but that doesn’t give them the right to fish in Texas waters with TEDs that are not working right. The opening of the Texas shrimping season this year will be like none other and we’re not crying “Wolf.”
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on June 2nd, 2010
Today at least 222 sea turtles have been reported dead in the wake of the catastrophic oil
spill, and dozens more are being rescued and rehabilitated daily.
Concrete evidence of massive underwater oil plumes from two
universities mean an even greater threat to all sea turtles from oil in
"BP's cover-up of the true magnitude of the oil
spill likely reaches into many other aspects of the disaster, including
deaths to sea turtles. Sea turtles impacted by oil are lucky to make it
shore, and many are likely dying at sea." says environmental
toxicologist Dr. Chris Pincetich.
Scientist with experience on
the Exxon Valdez spill confirmed that many dead animals sink in the
ocean and only a fraction of the deaths could be recorded.
The Gulf of Mexico summers are characterized by hurricanes and declining water quality resulting in huge biological "dead zones" from nutrient inputs into the ocean. If these common conditions combine with the growing oil spill, the chances of survival for any marine life is sure to decrease, and hatchling sea turtles will be especially vulnerable.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on May 26th, 2010
Last night here in Houston, Texas, at a public forum organized by the True Cost of Chevron Coalition, I heard stories from women and men who had traveled for days before arriving for the Chevron shareholder meeting. I was rocked by their experiences, each one a bold sharing from courageous activists. Many of them put their own lives on the line to go public with what they know. I am here to speak for the voiceless sea turtle, while they are here to speak for their lives and those of their children, partners and families -- some of whom have been lost.
Mariana Jimenez is a 70-year-old grandmother of 27, mother of 7, and a campesina who settled in Ecuador's rainforest in 1971 when Texaco first started drilling in the Amazon region. She said that she represented 30,000 people displaced by oil operations in her country. She told about ponds turning black with oil, black smoke in her village and illness. I understood her even in Spanish because her anguish and determination were equally strong when delivering her message to Chevron to clean up. She lost her sister to cancer, two infant nephews to poisoned water and even her pigs have died.
Debra Barros Fince also shook the room with her description of the hardships and oppression she and other women face in Colombia due to an oil pipeline. In April 2004, her community was attacked by paramilitary forces and permanently removed. She is the Director of Wayuumunsurat and a lawyer representing the Wayuu people.
From Nigeria, Emem Okon fiercely explained how women in the Niger Delta suffer from oil operations and discrimination in rural communities. She organizes women to become active in protecting themselves from oppression, violence and environmental harm. The armed conflict in the region that has arisen after decades of oil company brutality has made things dangerous for everyone there. She is the Executive Director of the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre.
There are far too many stories to recap here, and I can't begin to tell them properly. But these and the other people who came from places in the U. S. and around the world made the horror of Chevron and other big oil's operations more real than ever before. This is not just a campaign or anti-oil hysteria. No matter what Chevron, the the corporate media or anyone else says in their denial or guilt, our use of oil in the U. S. is a cause of great pain and suffering.
Read some of their stories at the True Cost of Chevron website, http://truecostofchevron.com/
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on May 25th, 2010
Program Director Teri Shore and Gulf Director Carole Allen called on Chevron to stop harming people, the environment and sea turtles at a press conference in front of the oil company's headquarters in Houston. Josh Coates of Wilderness Society in Australia also took the stage to point out Chevron's harm to turtles, whales and sacred lands in Australia.
Carole gave out press releases to the camera people from various news stations that said: "Sea turtles and oil don't mix. It's time to stop building oil and gas facilities in sea turtle habitat." The Kemp's ridleys in Texas are in danger from the Gulf Oil spill while flatbacks in Australia are losing nesting beaches to the Gorgon natural gas plant. In Angola, Chevron is claiming to protect sea turtles from its operations, but activists in Angola say it is just PR. See our press release.
After statements from people from around the world, the crowd of 30 marched into Chevron's lobby demanding a meeting. Antonia Juhasz of Global Exchange requested a meeting with Chevron CEO John Watson. The company's Public Relations representative refused a meeting but listened to activists from Richmond, CA; Nigeria, Ecuador and Colombia demand an end to practices that are killing people, poisoning water and devastating forests and homelands.
Many will go to the Annual General Meeting tomorrow, while the rest of us will be rallying outside in turtle costumes. Our new No Drill, No Spill stickers were on display today and will be given out by the thousands at the rally!
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on May 24th, 2010
The Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program is vigorously cleaning endangered Kemp's Ridley juvenile sea turtles that have been coming in to the center covered in oil. At least 186 sea turtles and more than 60 birds have recovered dead or dying during the oil spill.
Experts studying the dead sea turtles that have washed up
on Gulf beaches still have little solid evidence that oil was to blame. The
majority of these dead sea turtles are juvenile Kemp's ridleys, who are
known to be regularly killed by commercial fishing operations.
"The oil spill is putting these dead sea turtles on the front pages,
but destructive commercial fishing practices kill nearly this many
Kemp's ridleys each year," states Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle
Restoration Project. " The combined effects of the timing of the oil
spill, the increased fishing pressure that immediately followed it, and
the toxic effects of the spill have us very worried about the entire
population of Kemp's ridleys."
BP's use of toxic oil dispersants has finally been stopped due to an order from the EPA. Millions of gallons of these toxic chemicals were applied both to the surface and deep underwater in an attempt to minimize the visible surface oil slick. Fish, corals, plankton, and all pelagic marine life were exposed.
Scientists and reporters are increasingly frustrated by BP's management of the spill response, with some claiming obstructive activities to open study and reporting of the disaster. Concerns also abound about our governments' response as well. Some choice examples of these concerns are below.
"The fact that NOAA has missed the ball catastrophically on the tracking and effects monitoring of this spill is inexcusable," said Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine conservationist who recently spent more than a week on the Gulf Coast advising Greenpeace. "They need 20 research ships on this, yesterday. This is probably turning out to be the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the most unique oil spill in world history."
Frank Muller-Karger, an oceanography professor at the University of South Florida who will be testifying before the House Energy Committee on Wednesday, said that testing for oil beneath the surface should be a top priority.
"I think that should be one of our biggest concerns, getting the technology and the research to try to understand how big this amorphous mass of water is, and how it moves," Dr. Muller-Karger said. "[The spill]It's like an iceberg. Most of it is below the surface. And we just have no instruments below the surface that can help us monitor the size, the concentration and the movement."
The struggle of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico is highlighted by the story that finds that an individual sea turtle, named #15, who was relocated out of an oil spill over 30 years ago has safely returned to nest again on Texas Beaches.
Thousands of juvenile Kemp's ridleys were transported out of the wake of the Ixtoc 1 oil spill disaster in 1979, which dumped millions of gallons of oil near the primary nesting beaches for Kemp's ridleys in Mexico. This one brave female sea turtle has been tracked to consistently return to nest in Texas, and once again she has been spotted in almost the exact location she was originally hatched and released from.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on May 12th, 2010
This blog post appeared on the Save Kimberley website:
Hundreds of Kimberley residents let their voices be heard in a colourful community rally in Broome in Northwest Australia this past Saturday.
The battle cry “Gas Free Kimberley! Save our community!” was heard from
the town oval all the way to the Civic Centre as the energetic group
marched with signs, banners, and even juggling clubs and wildlife
creations. A near life-size construction of a humpback whale led the
Former shire councilor, Chris Maher emceed the event, which included
presentations by Kerry Marvell, from Save the Kimberley, Martin
Pritchard from Environs Kimberley, Arnhem Hunter, and local traditional
owners Neil McKenzie and Joseph Roe. Musicians Kerrianne Cox, Wil
Thomas, Harry Jakamarra, Clint “Westwood” and Steve Pigram inspired the
crowd after speeches were made. The message was loud and clear that
it’s time for locals to stand up and be heard; the future health of our
unique home of Broome and the surrounding region is at stake.
As the Hands Off Country blog summarises, the advice to locals was as follows–
“The speakers … urged us to stay strong; to write to the Prime
Minister; make this an election issue; beware the social consequences;
understand what’s happened in the Pilbara; a wise warning about the
drug issues ‘without speed the Burrup would never have been built’; to
be informed; to ask questions; understand what real Indigenous
employment means; keep looking after country. The message was loud and
clear, no one here wants gas in the Kimberley.”
Posted by Maeve Murphy, Development Associate on May 4th, 2010
The increasingly dire reports on the devastating oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico are horrifying to those of us who care about marine
life and healthy seas. Meanwhile, another petroleum product, plastic, gets
fewer headlines but is slowly and insidiously polluting our beaches and oceans,
spoiling habitats and harming sea turtles and other marine life all over the
At best, discarded plastic on beaches and at sea is an
eyesore; at worst, it can be deadly to marine creatures, and works its way up
the food chain (and ultimately to us). And dumping at sea is not the main
culprit: some 80 percent of plastics found at sea were discarded on land.
Nature lovers and adventure travelers regularly report
their shock at the sight of piles and piles of discarded plastic bottles and
other petroleum-based detritus in the most remote, otherwise pristine beaches
and coasts on earth, carried there by wind and ocean currents. A bottle cap
that fell out of a garbage truck in San Diego can end up on a tiny, uninhabited
island in the Pacific in the decayed carcass of a baby albatross, which died
because its mother innocently fed it too much plastic it found floating in the
We have ALL contributed to this overwhelming problem, and
can ALL be part of the solution. What can you do? I'm saying no to more and
more single-use plastic items. I don't leave the house without my own shopping
bag, food takeaway containers and utensils (it look me a while to get in the
habit, but I got there). I buy bulk from grocers where available, bringing my
own containers (I haven't bought a new shampoo bottle for years).
Think about each single-use item you buy: is there a
reusable alternative? Do I really need this? Stand up to the social pressure to
always take the most 'convenient' option. Tell people why you are doing it. Be
part of the ever-growing movement that is rejecting single-use plastics. And if
we reduce our use of all petroleum products, hopefully the demand for drilling
will be reduced as well.
Our daily actions can have unimaginable consequences in
places we've never even heard of, and what seems convenient to us can be far
from convenient to many of the marine creatures we share the planet with. We
can all start being part of the solution.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 30th, 2010
On April 24, the 2010 nesting season of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle began at the Padre Island National Seashore when one nest was found. On April 29, nine Kemp's ridley nests were found on the Texas coast including four at Padre Island National Seashore and five on South Padre Island.
So far this year, 10 Kemp's ridley nests have been confirmed on the Texas
coast including (north to south in state):
Bolivar Peninsula 0
Galveston Island 0
Brazoria County, just north of Surfside 0
Surfside Beach 0
Quintana Beach 0
Bryan Beach 0
Matagorda Peninsula 0
Matagorda Island 0
San Jose Island 0
Mustang Island 0
North Padre Island 5, including 5 at Padre Island National Seashore
South Padre Island 5
Boca Chica Beach 0
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on April 29th, 2010
Plastic trash on beaches and in the open ocean is disrupting the normal nesting behavior of critically endangered leatherback sea turtles. For many years, we have been aware that these gentle giants regularly ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for the jellyfish that make up most of their diet. This video clip below documents a female leatherback struggling to dig her nest through plastic pollution on Matura Beach in Trinidad. Clearly, it is not just the current plastics we see on beaches that are a threat to wildlife, but also the accumulation of plastic bags, bottles, and bits intertwined into their habitat. Volunteers monitoring the leatherback nesting were able to remove the bottle so the nest could be dug deeper, but it bothers me knowing that plastic pollution is likely disrupting other nesting attempts by leatherbacks.
At the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, we are fighting locally to ban all disposable bags, regionally to ban plastic bags and removable plastic lids, and will be expanding our efforts internationally with the help of summer interns. Contact me to learn more.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is partnering with the Oceans movie release and leading actions to protect and save sea turtles on their website and on the Save My Oceans campus tour. Join us in taking the Oceans Pledge to 1) stop using disposable plastic bags and bottles, 2) stop eating endangered sea life, and 3) reducing your carbon footprint. These actions all contribute to saving sea turtles! Sea turtles choke on plastics, are captured and killed on swordfish and tuna fishing boats, and are losing nesting beaches due to global warming.
Only by taking personal direct action will we begin to turn around the current destruction of sea turtles and their ocean habitat. With our work at the Save My Oceans Tour stop we will spread these important messages and have fun doing it! Get involved! We can use your help at the UC Berkeley tour stop, which includes a recycled materials art installation, a concert featuring the Cold War Kids, and an advanced screening of Oceans. We’ll be activating college students to get on board with critical habitat for the leatherback sea turtle, stop the fossil fuel frenzy on Australian sea turtle nesting beaches, and cultivate a new generation of ocean advocates. If you can volunteer to help at UC Berkeley April 17 or April 20-22 for any of the events, please contact Chris Pincetich at chris at tirn dot net
A Cosco coal carrier wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has begun leaking bunker fuel and oil. Thousands of loggerhead and green turtles nest among the small islands and mainland beaches here. The ship is owned by the same company responsible for the massive bunker fuel spill in San Francisco Bay in October 2008.
The Age newspaper reported that: "the 230-metre-long ship carrying 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 65,000 tonnes of coal, was travelling at full speed when it hit a sandbank in a protected part of the Great Barrier Reef. Its fuel tank ruptured, causing a three-kilometre-long oil slick. Authorities stemmed the spill, but have warned that the salvage operation could take weeks, as moving the vessel will be a ''delicate'' operation that risks sending hundreds of tonnes of oil on to the reef." See the full story and photo.
And there is the 18,000 gallons of oil leaking in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico from a pipeline operated by Chevron Pipe Line Co. in sea turtle neashore habitat reported by Associated Press: "A crude oil spill covers about one-fifth of a remote national wildlife refuge near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and another 120 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico."
The Kemp's ridley nesting season is about to start any day now along the Gulf coast.
Yet everyone still wants to "drill, baby, drill" and build massive new fossil fuel projects all over the world. I personally won't stop resisting this insanity, no matter how politically "unrealistic" it is.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on February 28th, 2010
Two years ago in 2008 Conservation Volunteers Australia began to study the Australian flatback sea turtles that nest at EcoBeach, south of Broome on Roebuck Bay in the Kimberley. For the first time ever, staff and volunteers patrolled the beach during the peak nesting season for 40 nights in November and December. Volunteers trained and guided by CVA marine species manager Glenn McFarlane and his staff -- who are approved and permitted by the Western Australian government -- walked the 12 kilometers of beach from Jack's Creek to the new EcoBeach Resort night after night looking for flatbacks.
Over the past two years numerous nesting females were tagged for the first time and DNA taken to determine their lineage. And in 2009/10 satellite transmitters were attached to two turtles, both named Lucy, but that's another story. Where they go and what the DNA testing finds will shed light on the mystery of these Kimberley flatbacks that has never been known before.
While this uniquely Australian sea turtle has been nesting here for millenia, they were perhaps simply forgotten by the public and the world because it wasn't that remarkable. People had seen sea turtles nesting at Eco Beach, 80-mile beach to the south and the famous Cable Beach at Broome for as long as anyone could remember. It wasn't surprising or unusual to see a flatback or other sea turtle come up to nest or a clutch of hatchlings clamoring by when down at the beach to watch a sunset or campout.
So until now, there has been no long-term study to determine the status of this flatback population - or any in the Kimberley for that matter. CVA has stepped in thanks to the expertise and passion of Glenn who has spent years working with leatherbacks in Costa Rica. His leadership has also helped establish citizen science projects at Cable Beach and 80 Mile Beach to get estimates of these well-known, yet little understood marine turtles.
I was fortunate to be traveling in Broome when Glenn and his team went back to EcoBeach in February to exhume nests and assess success rates. Unearthing data loggers tracking sand temperatures was another primary task. So for three very hot, though blessedly windy, days we dug up nests, counted eggs and recorded our findings. The hard-working team dug by day and relaxed at night as guests of the EcoBeach Resort. One night we even had the privilege of swimming in the lavish pool that overlooks the beach and ocean.
Sadly, we found that many nests had been washed away. A full report on the season will be released by CVA in the near future. But what I learned from my days with Glenn, Jo and Kerry was that this was important ground-breaking work that will provide new science on the Kimberley flatbacks that will help protect them for the long-term.
Another reason I was there was to see the EcoBeach Retreat, an amazing low-profile accomodation and complex built (and rebuilt due to cyclones) by eco-businessman Karl Plunkett of Australia Eco Constructions. On a point of red rock above RoeBuck Bay and an incredible expanse of white sand and blue water, Karl has constructed an eco-vision with a touch of luxury. Humble, yet comfortable, brown two-to-four person safari-type canvass tents with room to stand(which have been ordered and shipped around the world) sit among the dunes and native grasses. More luxurious eco-villas with air conditioning are positioned on the rises with ocean views. Solar panels provide much of the electricity supplemented with low-emissions diesel generators. Being a skeptic about just about anything that's called "eco" now-adays, I was impressed with the overall commitment to green-ness by the EcoBeach Resort. I was also encouraged by the company's support and commitment to sea turtle protection.
The combination of sea turtle protection and comfort is just too good for an activist and traveler like me to pass up. So watch for details of an STRP-CVA sea turtle monitoring volunteer trip in December 2010 during the peak of flatback season!