Scientists Fear Double Whammy of Drowning in Oil and Shrimp Nets Will Lead to Extinction in the Gulf of Mexico

HOUSTON – With BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf pushing rare sea turtles closer than ever to extinction, two environmental groups today petitioned the federal government for an emergency extension of the shrimp fishery seasonal closure. The closure is scheduled to expire Thursday, July 15. The groups also asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct an analysis required by the Endangered Species Act before allowing the fishery to open as usual to determine whether sea turtles would be jeopardized. Download the 60-day Notice Letter.

“The government needs to ensure that sea turtles are adequately protected when the shrimp season opens,” said Deborah A. Sivas, Professor of Environmental Law and Director of Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which is representing California-and Texas-based Turtle Island Restoration Network, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

More than 600 sea turtles have been reported killed or injured since the Gulf spill, and scientists believe this is a tiny fraction of these endangered species that have and will be killed by the disastrous 86-day oil spill that continues to pollute the Gulf.  Thousands of adults and hatchlings are leaving their nesting sites and are believed to be heading directly into the spill.

Scientists are concerned that until BP is able to ensure sea turtle survival from the massive oil slick that other threats to turtles need to be considered. Shrimp fishing can kill sea turtles, when the air-breathing animals are caught in the nets and prevented from surfacing to breathe. Shrimp fishing is recognized as the annual leading cause of mortality to adult turtles from industrial fishing activities in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the world. To ensure the long-term viability of shrimp and fishing in the Gulf, precautions are needed now. The economic loss shrimpers face from the Deep Horizon oil spill should be fully compensated by BP, including any new restrictions that result that are necessary to prevent the extinction of sea turtles in the Gulf.

Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network said, “Right now, we need to be protecting the remaining fish and wildlife in the Gulf, so it can provide a genetic pool for wildlife to re-colonize once this mess is cleaned up. This is not the time to be short-sighted and selfish to both future generations of fishers and the American public by vacuuming up all the life that has survived the oil disaster.”

“Sea turtles now face the double-whammy of perishing in the horrendous oil spill or drowning in shrimp nets, and together these threats may push some of the species into extinction in the Gulf,” said Carole Allen, Gulf of Mexico director for Turtle Island Restoration Network in Houston, Texas.  “We won’t sit idly and allow this to happen without a fight to ensure everything is done to give these ancient species a fighting chance.”

Sea turtles have been present in the Gulf for tens of millions of years, having out-survived the threats that caused the extinction of dinosaurs, but all U.S. species now find themselves on the endangered species list, due to human impacts that include fishing, oil spills, other pollutants and poaching.

“Hundreds of sea turtles have already been found dead in the Gulf since the spill, and all of these turtles were already nearing extinction.  Endangered sea turtles need every bit of protection available to secure their survival,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “BP is the bad guy here and owes it to shrimpers to make them financially whole, we support those efforts and urge BP to do the right thing.”