Policy Initiatives: Coastal Policy: Oil Spill Disaster

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David Godfrey’s Survey Report on Sea Turtle Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico

Watch a Fox News Interview with David Godfrey

Report issued on September 1, 2010 on the Impacts of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Sea Turtles:

  • 617 stranded*
    • Very few (12) of the stranded turtles had evidence of oiling
    • The vast majority were collected were dead (550)
    • Of those, 24 have been released from rehabilitation facilities
    • 67 of the stranded sea turtles were found alive
    • Very few (12) of the stranded turtles had evidence of oiling
  • 459 turtles have been collected offshore during direct sampling activities
    • Almost all of these were oiled (446)
    • The vast majority were collected were alive (453)
    • Of those, 182 have been released from rehabilitation facilities
    • 6 turtles collected dead
    • These are mostly smaller non-nesters
  • Best management protocols continue to be followed on Panhandle beaches
    • All nests are marked to avoid interaction with cleanup crews and facilitate relocation to the east coast
    • Wildlife observers continue to monitor the beaches at night to avoid interactions with cleanup activities
    • Nest relocation is continuing in Alabama and along the Florida panhandle
  • Nest relocation update:
    • 278 nests have been relocated, almost all loggerhead nests.
    • 14,416 hatchlings have been released into the Atlantic

* For this event, a true turtle stranding is defined as a turtle that washes ashore dead or debilitated or is found floating dead or debilitated in the course of non-directed turtle surveys. Turtles observed and/or captured during directed sampling efforts are not categorized as strandings.

Turtle Necropsy Status (of 430 dead stranded, 4 dead directed capture, and 7 that died in rehab):

  • 7 assessed and unable to perform necropsies (i.e. advance decomposition)
  • 17 partial necropsies (e.g. due to scavenging or autolysis)
  • 59 full necropsies performed
  • 46 carcasses not collected due to decomposition state or unable to recover but marked and/or buried
  • 312 carcasses to be necropsied, if decomposition stage warrants
  • Of the initial 75 full or partial necropsies completed, the two primary considerations for the cause of death of the non-oiled recovered turtles are forced submergence or acute toxicosis. Further results are pending.

Information on Signs of Sea Turtle Oiling:

  • Visible evidence of oil has been documented externally on 7 dead stranded sea turtle and 7 live stranded turtles (2 of which were caught in skimming operations).
  • Visible evidence of oil has been documented externally on 93 live sea turtles and 3 dead sea turtle captured during directed turtle surveys.

Historical Sea Turtle Strandings:

  • The total number of sea turtle strandings that we have documented from the Louisiana/Texas border through the Florida panhandle from June 1- June 27 is 219.
  • This is much higher than the number of turtle strandings that have been documented in recent years in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle during this approximate time frame. The breakdown by state for the range of animals historically stranding in the month of June (2005-2009) is as follows:
    • Louisiana: 0-3 stranded sea turtles
    • Mississippi: 0-1 stranded sea turtles
    • Alabama: 0-4 stranded sea turtles
    • Florida panhandle (Escambia – Wakulla Co.): 5-17 stranded sea turtles
  • There has been an increase in awareness and human presence in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which likely has resulted in some of the increased documentation of stranded turtles; however, we do not believe this factor fully explains the increase.