The federal governments of the United States and Mexico today released final revisions to the Gulf of Mexico Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Plan, underscoring oil and gas development as a major threat to these endangered sea turtles. The bi-national Plan starkly portrays the devastating effects of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill on the fragile Gulf population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and provides an enhanced road-map for species recovery. The Plan also includes numerous improvements to disaster response, as recommended by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP), the leading science-driven sea turtle advocacy organization currently active in the Gulf region.

“We are pleased that the plan recognizes the need to prevent oil and gas drilling and extraction that destroys the foraging, breeding or nesting habitat of sea turtles,” said Carole Allen, STRP’s Gulf Office Director in Houston, Texas. “This is a welcome and refreshing departure from the on-going failure of state-level agencies to even enforce the species protection measures already on the books.”

As a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, thousands of sea turtles died from oil poisoning or in so-called “controlled burns,” as clean-up teams ignited surface oil that burned the turtles to death. Thereafter, STRP led an international campaign demanding updated regulations to increase protections for endangered sea turtles from the reckless practices that characterize the petroleum industry’s activities in the Gulf. As a result, the revised plan calls for rapid response after an oil spill to protect sea turtle nesting beaches including training for personnel in relocating nests, nesting females and hatchlings.

As welcome as the current revisions are, they fail to provide the whole-system protections that endangered species require.

“The plan omits a number of critical points,” observes STRP’s toxicologist Dr. Chris Pincetich. “It must require on-water rescue of sea turtles in an oil spill, independent wildlife observers and sea turtle rescue teams on oil cleanup vessels as well as banning chemical dispersants and controlled burns that killed unknown numbers of sea turtles during and after the BP oil spill.”

Despite the recommendations of conservation groups, including STRP, no new habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act were suggested in the Plan for the U.S. Known as critical habitat, the federally protected areas typically surround important breeding, feeding, and migration areas for an endangered species, and are linked to successful species recovery.

“The science supports creating critical habitat for Kemp’s ridleys around the breeding and nesting areas in Texas and in important feeding areas around the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana” added Pincetich.