Killing of Sea Turtles in “Burn Boxes” Violates Endangered Species Act

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network today officially notified BP and the U.S. Coast Guard of their intent to sue to stop the burning alive of endangered sea turtles in the chaotic clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The 60-day notice letter is a first step to filing a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.

“BP is burning turtles alive and it is cruel, heartless and a crime we can’t and won’t allow to continue,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). “Sea turtles were critically endangered before BP created America’s worst environmental catastrophe, and every effort possible must be taken to rescue endangered turtles from this oil spill. BP needs to reverse course and help double our efforts to rescue sea turtles, not prevent their recovery.”

The spill occurred as rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtles started nesting in the Gulf of Mexico. Several females have been tracked directly to the oil spill. Millions of hatchlings are racing to the sea now from nests in the Gulf of Mexico and are likely to face oiled waters as they seek out Gulf currents.

“Kemp’s ridleys have struggled back from near extinction; they deserve more than dying in purposefully set oil fires,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Director and TIRN board member.

Turtle Island Restoration Network sounded the alarm about sea turtles being burned alive after a boat captain who had been rescuing sea turtles reported that BP started a burn operation before the rescue crew could survey the area and rescue the turtles. Since then the Obama administration has confirmed the burning of sea turtles by BP crews. BP is using “controlled burns” in an attempt to contain the spill. Boats create a corral of oil by dragging together fire-resistant booms and then lighting the enclosed “burn box” on fire. If turtles are not removed from the area before the fire is lit, they are burned alive.

“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center. “Newly hatched sea turtles are swimming out to sea and finding themselves in a mucky, oily mess. News that BP has blocked efforts to rescue trapped sea turtles before they’re burned alive in controlled burns is unacceptable.”

Today’s notice letter puts BP and federal agencies involved in the Deepwater Horizon response on official notice that their practices in the Gulf are resulting in the illegal and deeply inhumane deaths of threatened and endangered species, particularly the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. The letter asks BP and the Coast Guard to place qualified observers in the Gulf of Mexico who can survey for, and rescue, endangered turtles and other wildlife.

As of today at least 429 sea turtles have been collected dead in the Gulf area since the oil spill due to oiled waters as well as capture in shrimp trawls. Many more have likely been injured or killed but not found. In addition to the Kemp’s ridley, four other endangered sea turtle species are found in the Gulf of Mexico: greens, loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks. They rely on areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico for nesting, reproduction, feeding and migration. All of these turtles are at risk from poisoning from oil and careless controlled burns.