In attempts to control oil spewing from its ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP “burn fields” are burning alive endangered sea turtles, further hindering any improvements in the relationship between conservationists and the foreign-based oil giant
Controlled burns in 500-square mile fields are helping BP’s efforts at shielding from the general public the magnitude of its oil debacle in the Gulf and, at the same time, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, including endangered sea turtles.
More than 425 turtles are known dead in the spill zone since data began being collected on April 30, according to the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to The Guardian, NOAA spokeswoman said: “My understanding is that protocols include looking for wildlife prior to igniting of oil. We take these things very seriously.”
Of the world’s seven sea turtle species, five are found in the Gulf of Mexico: leatherback, green, loggerhead, hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley. All five of these turtle populations are endangered or threatened, none more so than the the Kemp’s Ridley turtle.
BP now stands accused of hindering rescue efforts of the turtles. In a video posted to You Tube, Mike Ellis, a skipper based out of Venice, Louisiana, states BP is shutting down conservationists attempting to rescue turtles caught in the oil-covered sargassum grass.
“They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us go back in there,” said Ellis in the interview with Catherine Craig. Ellis adds the turtles look “chocolate-covered.”
Responding to the sickening news, Carole Allen, Gulf Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, said: "It is criminal and it is cruel and they need to be held accountable. There should not be another lighting of a fire of any kind till people have gone in there and looked for turtles.”
On the project’s website, Ms Allen stated: “The burning of boom and oil when even one sea turtle was seen in the water is a despicable crime.”
On calm days, generally considered optimum weather conditions when on the open water, boats operating in pairs use fireproof booms to corral crude oil that has risen to the surface. The oil is then lit, creating huge flames and plumes of smoke.
Unfortunately, some oil collects along weed lines where sargassum and marine wildlife - including surface fish, crabs, sea slugs, and endangered sea turtles - congregate. The grass and wildlife vanish in the flames and smoke.
As reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times, lines of communication between BP and environmentalists remain closed.
Blair Witherington, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who has also been a part of the sea turtle rescue efforts, said: “"It reflects the conventional wisdom of oil spills: If they just keep the oil out at sea, the harm will be minimal. And I disagree with that completely."
Since the explosion on April 20 of the Deepwater Horizon rig, 275 of the controlled burns have been conducted, removing more than 10 million gallons of oil from the Gulf’s open waters, resulting in the release of an untold amount of toxins into the air as well.
Under the Endangered Species Act, harming or killing a Kemp’s Ridley carries fines and civil penalties ($500-$25,000) for each violation. Criminal penalties can include prison time and fines from $25,000-$50,000.