Researchers with the National Wildlife Federation, the Sea Turtle Conservancy, and the Florida Wildlife Federation say there were four to six times more turtles found dead, disabled, and diseased in the months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill than average.
The analysis did not pinpoint cause of death, although researchers said that many of the 600 creatures certainly died of exposure to crude. But while many turtles could have died from other factors such as entanglement in fishing nets and cold weather, the spike in deaths following the spill is still significant – and troubling.
“Of all the species affected by the oil spill, those for which I have the greatest concern are the sea turtles,” said study co-author Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation.
Inkley believes the oil spill was at least partially responsible for the above-average deaths, although necropsies performed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association indicate that most of the turtles drowned in fishing gear.
Sea turtles are especially vulnerable because it takes them 10 to 30 years to reach adulthood, so it could take decades to restore dwindling populations to healthy numbers.
Four of the turtle species dwelling along the Florida coast – green, hawksbill, leather back, and Kemp’s ridley – are endangered.