Starting next week, the 17th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will meet in Paris, France. It’s another year, and another chance for the international body to take greater action to prevent the extinction of bluefin tuna, and to better protect sharks, swordfish and sea turtles.
We will have a team of scientists in Paris, and they will be calling on ICCAT to do the following:
* Suspend the bluefin tuna fishery until a system is implemented that follows the scientific advice on catch levels, stops illegal fishing and protects bluefin tuna spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean.
Today marks the six month anniversary of the start of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Around 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. More than 6,000 birds, more than 600 sea turtles, and almost 100 marine mammals have died, and news surfaced this week that the spill likely killed 20 percent of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the vicinity of the spill. And the long-term effects remain to be seen.
It was the nation’s largest environmental disaster in history, and yet, there’s a pervading sense that the disaster is behind us, that the majority of the country has taken a deep breath and moved on. Congress hasn’t passed climate legislation, and the Obama administration lifted the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling several weeks earlier than planned.
What’s wrong with this picture?
We’re frustrated. If you are too, here are some ways to channel that frustration into action:
1. Tell your Senators to support the development of offshore wind power. We have a new report out that shows how offshore wind would be cost-effective, more beneficial to job creation, and better for the environment and ocean in a variety of ways than offshore drilling.
From Reuters UK today: The oil spill poses a large threat to the Kemp's Ridley population which makes its home in the Gulf. "This is a major blow to that population," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the California-based Turtle Restoration Project, said. "Here you have a situation where the adults, hatchlings and juveniles are all in the Gulf."
From Reuters UK today:
The oil spill poses a large threat to the Kemp's Ridley population which makes its home in the Gulf.
"This is a major blow to that population," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the California-based Turtle Restoration Project, said. "Here you have a situation where the adults, hatchlings and juveniles are all in the Gulf."
Today’s Oil Spill Quote of the Day features Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, one of our very own scientists:
From yesterday’s Guardian:
Some 1,020 sea turtles were caught up in the spill, according to figures (pdf) today – an ominous number for an endangered species. Wildlife officials collected 177 sea turtles last week – more than in the first two months of the spill and a sizeable share of the 1,020 captured since the spill began more than three months ago. Some 517 of that total number were dead and 440 were covered in oil, according to figures maintained the Deepwater Horizon response team.
Imagine a healthy, beautiful ocean. Now remove the sea turtles, one by one.
Not so healthy anymore, is it?
That’s the gist of the report we released today, Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles: The Importance of Sea Turtles to Marine Ecosystems. The report describes the vital roles sea turtles play in the ecosystem, and how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is further threatening their ability to fulfill those roles.
As the report outlines, sea turtles provide the following important ecosystem services:
- Maintain healthy seagrass beds through grazing
- Maintain healthy coral reefs by removing sponges when foraging
- Facilitate nutrient cycling by supplying a concentrated source of high-protein nutrients when nesting
- Balance marine food webs by maintaining jellyfish populations
- Provide a food source for fish by carrying around barnacles, algae and other similar organisms
- Increase the rate of nutrient recycling on the ocean floor by breaking up shells while foraging
- Provide habitat for small marine organisms as well as offer an oasis for fish and seabirds in the open ocean
Today’s Fact of the Day is about the beautiful hawksbill sea turtle.
This sea turtle has a particularly breathtaking carapace (or top shell). Unfortunately, as a result, hawksbill sea turtles were poached as the main source of tortoise shell goods for hundreds of years and are now in danger of extinction.
Unlike other sea turtles, when hawksbills are on land they walk using diagonally opposite flippers, rather than moving their front flippers in tandem as they do when they swim.
Warning: what follows isn’t exactly light reading.
The New York Times reported yesterday on the complicated task of performing necropsies -- i.e., animal autopsies -- on sea turtles and other creatures that have been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the spill started.
It’s not easy to determine the cause of death of these creatures. Of the 1,978 birds, 463 turtles and 59 marine mammals found dead in the Gulf since April 20th, few show visible signs of oil contamination.
And in the case of sea turtles, a more familiar culprit may be at fault: shrimp trawls and other commercial fishing gear that scoop up turtles as bycatch and prevent them from going to the surface to breathe.
Here’s a simplified breakdown of how the veterinary investigators begin to determine the cause of death:
Time for another FOTD!
Green sea turtles are born only two inches long and will grow to about three feet by adulthood. On average, young green sea turtles grow more than 11 pounds a year by feeding on sea grasses and algae -- yum!
From yesterday's Examiner:
“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center [for Biological Diversity]. “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.”
Sea turtles can become coated in oil or inhale volatile chemicals when they surface to breathe, swallow oil or contaminated prey, and swim through oil or come in contact with it on nesting beaches.
As of yesterday, 32 oiled sea turtles have been found in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 320 sea turtles have been found dead or injured since the spill began April 20.
While some dead and injured sea turtles are found by search crews or wash up on the beach, some never will. Ocean currents often carry them out to sea where they can sink or be eaten by predators.
Our report shows that the ongoing oil spill can have the following impacts on sea turtles: