How is the Money BP Pledged to Help Turtles Being Spent?

BP is going to pay to restore endangered sea turtle populations in the gulf, that much is clear. But how much and on which projects and species is a subject of confusion. At this point, turtle experts and advocates are wary of the decision-making process.

Jeff George, curator of Sea Turtle, Inc. says BP quietly pledged $5 million to the recovery of the Kemp’s ridley turtle, funneling the money through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Kemp’s ridley is in the running for the species most hurt by the massive spill because species it only nests in the gulf and mainly on one beach in Mexico. As of September 1, rehabbers have collected 1,076 sea turtles from the gulf, half of which were already dead. Of these 743 were Kemp’s ridley and 427 were dead Kemp’s ridleys. Biologists want to have 10,000 nesting females to feel the species is safe, but so far they have only about half that. (In a bit of good news NOAA just released 23 oiled

Kemp's ridley hatchling / USFWS

and cleaned Kemp’s.)

The NFWF is a non-profit that is headed by the same people who run the Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s a doorway for corporations to pay for environmental programs. Though, because it’s run by wildlife management bureaucrats who largely came up through the ranks with the top goals of protecting agriculture and promoting hunting, its priorities may be a bit off. On the board is right wing nutter and NRA president Wayne La Pierre, who incessantly tells hunters that Obama wants to grab and take away their God-given right to hunt.

Neither BP nor NFWF so far hasn’t returned request for comment on the grant and approval process. Another turtle expert, Mike Reynolds, director of Alabama’s Share the Beach says he heard from wildlife officials that grant money was available for turtle projects in general, not just the Kemp’s ridley. (Alabama only has a handful of Kemp’s.)

The controversy over having the foundation run the money is that they didn’t approve a project that leading turtle researchers thought was worth a try: to safeguard the hatchlings for a couple years until they were bigger and the oil had (we hope) diminished. That’s part of the constant battle in any effort to help animals recover from a disaster. As Mike Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network said in his blog, there are always those who want to euthanize injured animals and just work on the population. In their mind, animals aren’t so much individuals as cogs in the ecosystem. Hmm, would hunters be more likely to have that view than the rest of us? Granted, whatever eventual settlement BP makes with will likely include some Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which will come up with projects to help the species. But why not try to save individuals if we can?

“I think the consensus in the turtle community is that there’s no harm keeping healthy animals safe. That was the emphasis of our request for funding. I think that was by far the most important thing in our mind,” says George. But members of the unified command “were not fearful and were not overly concerned,” he says.

The NFWF site so far shows only one $60,000 Kemp’s ridley project, which would track turtles, not save them directly. The project from the Gladys Porter Zoo is going to tag 15 turtles after they nest and see where they go. Only the funding came through so late that they were only able to tag about half that many, George says. That doesn’t include the foundation’s annual ongoing project to protect the turtles that runs about $100,000 every year.

The $5 million over a decade would be a great help to the Kemp’s ridley. Someone may think of expanding its range by putting more eggs on Alabama and Mississippi beaches, where a handful of turtles nest now. Of course, $5 million  is chump change compared to the estimated $1 million a week BP has been blowing on ad buys.

Where to Go See Turtles

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