New reports emerging from the US Gulf coast show an unusually high number of endangered sea turtles stranded along Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama shorelines, with government officials lax in their responsibility of documenting and testing them.
Huffington Post reports that Gulf coast residents, primarily in Mississippi, are finding the large number of sea turtles on the beaches, dead and rotting in the coastal sun.
Just last month there were reports of an unusually high spike in the number of dead dolphins washing up along the Gulf coast, many of them stillborn infants. Now residents along the coastline are facing yet another abnormally high rate of marine species mortalities.
According to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources (OPR), as of April 4 there has been a total of 99 sea turtle strandings along coastlines of the three states, with 69 of them found along the Mississippi coastline.
One Gulf coast resident, Laurel Lockamy, has been photographing the dead sea turtles and reporting them to the NOAA’s hotline as well as the Institute of Marine Mammal Research in Mississippi so that the carcasses can be recovered.
Lockamy states that over an hour later a crew from IMMR arrived, took pictures, measurements and coated it with orange spray paint for a later pickup, leaving it on the beach.
“They didn’t do any testing. They just measured it, sprayed it and left it on the beach to rot. This is ridiculous. Why isn’t anyone testing them? I’m terrified to go to the beach these days,” Lockamy said, according to HuffPo.
However, US government officials present a different version. Connie Barclay, NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman, says its Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN) collects all new-found or moderately decomposing turtles for testing that might help determine cause of death. To date, none of the test results have been made public.
“We get out there as quickly as we can,” Barclay said, HuffPo notes. “We don’t just leave them there for days and days,” she added.
Spring time is the normal period for finding turtle strandings, but numbers so far this year suggest a cause for alarm. "The spring time is the typical time when turtle strandings in this region begin to increase, but the sharp increases in recent days are of concern," Barclay recently told MSNBC.
Other coastal residents side with Lockamy. Shirley Tillman of Pass Christian has recently seen 13 dead sea turtles wash ashore near her home. “I’m getting tired of going out there and trying to get people to pick them up,” she said, HuffPo notes. “These turtles just lay there decomposing and the stuff just explodes and stuff oozes out of them. Who’s going to keep the kids from coming over and play in the sand right next to them?” she added.
As with the dead dolphins, wildlife experts fear the actual numbers of dead sea turtles is much higher than the government’s numbers.
The government’s numbers, it should be noted, lack authenticity. Under Louisiana strandings, the NOAA Fisheries chart shows one unidentified sea turtle was found in January and 10 were found in March, for a 2011 total of eight unidentified sea turtles.
The NOAA suggest there “are many possible reasons” for the increased number of endangered sea turtles currently washing ashore along the Gulf coast, but among the reasons listed are fishing activities that could result in turtle bycatch and mortality and biotoxins, such as algal blooms which occur in the Gulf. Third on the list are
possible impacts from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Last June, during the height of the BP disaster in the Gulf, coastal residents accused BP of burning alive endangered sea turtles in controlled burn fields on the ocean's surface, claiming the oil giant shut down conservationist efforts to save the turtles.
More than 400 dead sea turtles were reported last summer during the oil disaster, with numbers dropping beginning last October.
Five species of sea turtles inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. They are the loggerhead, green, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles. All are afforded Endangered Species Act protection.