BP To Have Biologist On Board (Looking for Sea Turtles) When They Resume Oil Burns This Week

BP oil  burns

BP oil burns -- from the Sea Turtle Restoration Project Blog

When BP restarts burning off spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico (possibly as early as Friday), they’ll have to have a trained biologist on board to search for sea turtles entrapped in the muck, thanks to a deal struck with wildlife groups July 2. BP has done about 300 such burns, clearing 5 million gallons of oil the LA Times reports, but also an untold number of animals. In many cases clean-up crews did search, but not every time, turtle rescuers say. So now animal welfare groups are forcing the government and BP to do what should have been common sense–protecting perhaps the gulf’s most endangered species.

“To me its something that would seem like common sense but perhaps in the hurry to get clean up done,” turtles were overlooked, says Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. BP halted the burns, they said because of weather, last week and as of yet haven’t resumed.

The initial settlement only called on BP to notify the animal groups whether they brought a biologist on board. Not much help to the turtles. On Saturday, July 3, the Coast Guard, lawyers and turtle biologists worked out protocols for finding and rescuing turtles for the rest of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. Third-party biologists will accompany all controlled burn teams.

Because the initial agreement wasn’t as specific about plans, AWI and the plaintiffs Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and The Center for Biological Diversity, are not giving up their suit, which charges BP and the federal government with violating the Endangered Species Act. They’ve just agreed not to pursue the temporary restraining order, which would have stopped all oil burning in the gulf. But, if biologists aren’t on the burn crews, they’ll start it again.

The Los Angeles Times first uncovered the burning turtle controversy. Writer Kim Murphy described the gulf like a barren desert with oases of life on floating islands of sargassum, which is where turtles and crabs go to eat. Turtle rescue groups find turtles, often oil-coated, in the seaweed. “Yet in one case, the crew had to fall back and watch as skimmers gathered up a long line of sargassum that hadn’t yet been searched — and which they believe was full of turtles that might have been saved,” Murphy reported.

The burn crews use booms to push the oil into a small concentrated area of only about 100 square feet, Liss says, so searching for sea turtles should not take too long or disrupt operations. It’s just a matter of having somebody turtle smart on the boat.

“They had one lousy boat. We all thought they were out there looking for turtles,” says Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

The difficulty in figuring out what’s going on with wildlife in the gulf is that BP limits access. Journalists, scientists and environmental groups complain that BP has blocked their entry  with local government’s assent. Biologist Riki Otto told Keith Olbermann she’s heard BP is removing animal carcasses (both to make the disaster seem less serious and to reduce whatever fine they may face) and not letting scientists into critical areas to investigate. All of that seems to fit the pattern, but she loses me when she talks about BP-related emails disappearing from servers. There would be less fear of turtle burning and other abominations if they’d just let biologists and observers in.

Tell your U. S. Senators to Stop Releasing Endangered Sea Turtles into the Gulf

Where to Go to See Sea Turtles

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