The U.S. Coast Guard is reviewing our petition to overhaul offshore oil spill response for sea turtles and is considering opening a rulemaking process to allow public comments for improving their offshore oil spill response plans to better account for and protect endangered sea turtles and other sensitive marine life. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project has been campaigning non-stop since the BP spill began in 2010 to increase sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and improve the Coast Guard-led response efforts to protect them. Download our most recent letter to the Coast Guard at the link below, and click here to access our offshore oil environmental impact report scoping comments.
The one-year anniversary of the horrific BP oil spill is rapidly approaching, and yet federal agencies have very little to show for their efforts to improve offshore oil operations to reduce risks for workers, marine life, and coastal communities.
We are calling for many specific improvements to the Coast Guard's oil spill responses, including at minimum these measures:
1) Independent observers on all oil spill response vessels to record wildlife sightings;
On-water wildlife observations and rescue efforts by professionals independent of the responsible parties must begin immediately for all oil spills occurring in open waters where marine life exists. Relying on workers instructed by the responsible parties for on-water observations and rescue is a direct conflict of interest due to the fact that the observations result in penalties assessed on the responsible party for each endangered species wildlife interaction. During the BP spill, workers hired by BP were obstructed from sharing observations. The toxicity of an oil spill, and its effects on wildlife, are greatest during the early stages of an incident. Rapid deployment of independent observers to record and rescue endangered species wildlife will be one step closer to satisfying federal requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
2) Sea turtle rescuers on all cleanup vessel teams;
All U.S. sea turtle species are listed as endangered or threatened in the ESA, they can be handled and transported with minimal technical training and supplies, and they respond well to rehabilitation and care. All sea turtles encountered on-water and on-shore during an oil spill response must be rescued and transported to a qualified rehabilitation facility, and trained rescue workers with rescue equipment must be present on all vessels to accomplish this task.
3) Double or triple the number of qualified wildlife rescue teams on-call;
The BP oil spill demonstrated that the wildlife rescue component was underprepared to deal with large oil spills. Professional wildlife rescue units must be increased and systems put in place to rapidly expand the numbers of trained personnel able to work with on-water and on-shore wildlife rescue.
4) Establishment of a volunteer protocol for wildlife rescue assistance workers;
During the BP spill, qualified professionals offered pro-bono assistance to the on-water sea turtle rescue efforts but were turned away due to a “lack of volunteer assistance protocols” in the Marine Turtle Unit. In times of crisis, qualified volunteers must be allowed to assist wildlife rescue and recovery efforts, and protocols must be developed now to quickly integrate volunteers into rescue task force teams during an oil spill incident.
5) Maintenance of an effective level of search effort for sea turtles and wildlife;
Adequate vessel teams to survey all areas impacted by an oil spill must be working daily to observe, rescue, and rehabilitate impacted wildlife and sea turtles both on-shore and on-water for the duration of the oil spill incident. The on-water rescue of endangered sea turtles during the first two months of the BP spill was performed using only one vessel team, grossly inadequate to survey the hundreds of square miles with oiled sea turtles present.
6) Endangered species prioritized for rescue and rehabilitation;
Oil spill incident response plans must recognize the importance of endangered species protection during and prioritize their rescue and placement in rehabilitation facilities.
7) Sea turtle nesting beaches prioritized for placement of offshore oil booms;
Booms to protect sea turtle nesting beaches must be prioritized to prevent oil landing on sands that will incubate sea turtle nests. Cleanup of sea turtle nesting beaches must result in an oil-free environment to a depth of 30 inches to ensure no exposure occurs to developing eggs and embryos buried in the sand, a difficult task.
8) Chemical dispersants and “controlled burns” banned where endangered species are present.
Both chemical dispersants and in situ “controlled burns” were used in the BP oil spill and injured, harassed, or killed endangered species sea turtles. Chemical dispersants and mixtures of dispersants and crude oil have known toxicity to organisms critical to marine food webs and healthy ecology, transforming a oil slick from a issue primarily affecting seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals that use the sea surface regularly to feed and breathe into a three-dimensional toxic exposure that impacts all levels of the marine ecosystem. The in situ burning can directly harm or kill endangered sea turtles, and produces toxic discharges both into the atmosphere and into the water-column, when chunks of solid, toxic materials are formed from the burning. Both practices have many harmful effects still to be accurately determined, and the benefits of their use do not outweigh the costs to the marine environment and their direct impacts to endangered species.