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Sea Turtles Targeted in Next Phase of Deepwater Horizon Restoration

Kemps ridley sea turtle nesting at Padre Island National Seashore. Credit: National Park Service

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Gulf Spill Restoration

Sea Turtle Week 2015

June 19, 2015

The next phase of early restoration for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill includes a proposed project focused on sea turtles. The project will focus on three species—Kemp’s ridley, green, and loggerhead—all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. If the project is selected, NOAA would co-lead implementation in partnership with the Department of Interior and the State of Texas.

Sea turtles can live for decades, so we may not know the full extent of the oil spill’s impacts for many years. Sea turtles were exposed to oil through direct contact, ingestion, and inhalation.

Through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, NOAA and its federal and state partners have identified several potential strategies to restore sea turtles. This phase is focused on reducing bycatch, increasing survival from events such as extreme cold weather, and increasing nest success at key nesting beaches.

Studies show that turtle bycatch (the unintentional capture of turtles as part of normal fishing activity) is a significant cause of turtle deaths. When sea turtles are trapped in fishing gear, they can drown or suffer serious injuries. The use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawl gear allows turtles to escape while retaining shrimp. 

NOAA currently has a two-person team that works closely with Gulf fishermen to ensure their TEDs are installed and working properly. Adding staff to this effort and focusing in areas where sea turtles and shrimp fisheries overlap, would help reduce preventable turtle deaths.

Turtles also die during “cold stun” events, which occur when there is a rapid drop in temperature. This can “stun” turtles, making them lethargic and eventually killing them.  Additional staff, vessels, and mobile temporary warming facilities would help rescue more turtles and improve their survival.

The proposed project would also provide enhanced protection of Kemp’s ridley nests in the Gulf of Mexico.  The project would provide needed staff, training, and equipment (including incubation facilities), to help support successful nesting of Kemp’s ridley turtles.

Taken together, the proposed project is designed to conserve turtles at various stages of their life cycle, from eggs to adults.