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July 7, 2010
Ron Gould, Acting Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240-0001
Director Jon Jarvis
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dr. Jane Lubchenco Administrator,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
HCHB, Room 5810
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20233
Emergency Action Requested: Halt Release of Kempís Ridley Sea Turtle Hatchlings from Padre Island Seashore into Gulf of Mexico and BP Oil Spill
Dear Directors Jarvis and Gould and Administrator Lubchenco,
Sea Turtle Restoration Project is writing to seek your immediate intervention on the protection and recovery of critically endangered Kempís ridley sea turtles from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We believe immediate action is necessary to:
Halt the release of critically endangered Kempís ridley hatchlings from Padre Island National Seashore along the south coast of Texas into the Gulf of Mexico. Right now thousands of hatchlings are being released as usual without any consideration of the BP oil spill and these individuals are likely to eventually become entrained in the same currents that are full of oil.
Three clutches of Kempís ridley nests totaling about 300 hatchlings are due to be released this Friday, July 11, 2010. Please direct Padre Island National Seashore to capture and hold these hatchlings to prevent them from swimming directly into oiled waters of the Gulf from the BP oil spill.
The mass relocation of sea turtle eggs recently implemented in Florida does not involve the endangered Kempís ridley, which nests in Texas and Mexico. Nor does the plan address the thousands of adult sea turtles that utilize Gulf waters now poisoned by oil slicks.
Halt Kemps Ridley Hatchlings Being Released Into Oil Slick
In spite of evidence that sea turtles in the western Gulf of Mexico may become entrained in the currents moving toward the east and into the oil spill, Kempís ridley hatchlings continue to be released at the Padre Island National Seashore along the Texas coast as usual. Although numerous hatchlings have already been released, more than 50 clutches (nests) of about 100 eggs each or about 5,000 hatchlings are left to be released. While the migratory paths of hatchling sea turtles are not precisely known, it is understood that the Kemp's ridley hatchlings are drawn to areas where the oil pools. They swim out to sea and cluster around clumps of seaweed and flotsam, where they stay for what is known as the "lost years."
Kempís ridley sea turtles are beginning to recover after near-extinction in the 1980s due to capture in shrimp trawl nets and were also impacted by the 1979 Ixtol oil spill. A bi-national effort between the U. S. and Mexico over decades that cost millions of dollars has resulted in a slowly increasing population. The BP oil spill is certain to have both short-and-long term negative impacts on the survival and recovery of the Kempís ridley and calls for additional actions at this time.
A consensus is emerging among sea turtle experts and the conservation community that most if not all of these animals should be taken into facilities for future release into habitat where they are not likely to die from the oil spill. These hatchling sea turtles should be captured and held at rehabilitation facilities until they can safely be released into the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service Galveston sea turtle facility can accommodate 2,000 sea turtles and additional rehabilitation facilities throughout the Gulf of Mexico are prepared to handle thousands more.
A) NMFS Galveston Lab has facilities for ~2,000 hatchlings, where the Kempís ridley rehabilitation and recovery program was previously housed. This facility should be put into immediate use for this purpose.
B) A public call to turtle hospitals, aquariums and museums in the Gulf and around the U. S. should be made immediately to assess additional facilities that are interested in joining this effort.
C) A team of experts from both government and academia should be immediately formed to develop (1) husbandry protocols, (2) assess adequacy of facilities, (3) develop long term plan for release of hatchlings. Furthermore, an expert panel made up of sea turtle biologists and physical oceanographers should be formed to create a model to better understand where Kempís hatchlings leaving Mexican and Texas beaches are heading to develop a release strategy.
As an urgent first step, we urge you to issue an emergency directive to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Park Service to immediately halt the release of Kempís ridley hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico and to retain the hatchlings in an appropriate facility until it is safe to release them.
More Sea Turtle Rescue and Recovery Vessels Needed
Five species of sea turtles that utilize the Gulf of Mexico are currently being exposed to the massive oil spill in breeding, foraging and migration habitat. However, since the BP oil spill erupted more than 70 days ago, Unified Command has deployed only one sea turtle rescue and recovery team (consisting of one to three vessels working as a unit) to the Gulf, according to confidential sources within NOAA.
Given the size of the spill now spreading into the waters of all five Gulf States, and that every species of sea turtle is protected under the Endangered Species Act, this level of intervention is completely inadequate to protect sea turtles from the massive oil spill. Hundreds of square miles of oiled ocean need to be patrolled every day. Rescuing and rehabilitation of sea turtles has proven to be effective to date with the vast majority of animals rescued so far have survived to date, according to NOAA sources.
We know that post-nesting Kempís ridley turtles migrate west to east along the Gulf coast and up the Atlantic East Coast to summer feeding grounds and are likely to be impacted by the oil spill. Two female Kempís ridleys equipped with satellite tracking devices after nesting this year at the Padre Island National Seashore traveled directly toward the oily waters off Louisiana. Turtles with tracking devices released by Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) also show tracks to Louisiana.
Right now, only one team dedicated to sea turtle rescue and recovery has been operating on a weather-dependent basis since the oil spill began 70 days ago. This is completely inadequate given that all sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Currently, there are thousands of Americans eager to assist in the BP oil clean-up who have not been utilized for reasons that are still not clear to us. Sea Turtle Restoration Project is prepared to fund an initial deployment of vessels and crew to the Gulf to rescue and recovery sea turtles. These vessels should be crewed by trained sea turtle experts, government officials and volunteers trained in handling of sea turtles and wildlife.
Our organization currently has a highly qualified team and resources in place in the Gulf, and is prepared to assist by getting more vessels on the water immediately and are more than willing to include personnel from NMFS, USFWS or whomever the government assigns to accompany, direct, and/or observe our rescue operations.
We urge you to immediately direct Unified Command to deploy dozens or even hundreds of vessels as possible to the region of the BP oil spill and adjacent waters to rescue sea turtles and take them to recovery facilities on shore.
Thank you for your consideration of this urgent request. We look forward to an immediate response.
Todd Steiner, Executive Director
415-663-8590, ext. 103
Carole Allen, Gulf Director
Teri Shore, Program Director
415-663-8590, ext. 104