Marine Pollution from Oil Spills & Chemical Run-off

The Problem: Oil spills and chemical run-off, primarily from city drains, are some of the biggest issues in marine pollution. Every year oil spills claim the lives of sea turtles. The substance can sit on the surface of the water and won't really stick to sea turtles like it would to other marine species. But oil can get in their eyes, on their skin, and in their lungs when they come to the surface to breathe. Although turtles maybe the toughest in terms of resisting some of the physical damage from oil spills, they have proved to be more vulnerable to chemical exposure that happens indirectly through the food they eat. Not only to larger spills pose a problem for the turtles, studies have shown that continuous exposure over time will weaken a sea turtle's overall health, making it more susceptible to other dangers.

Oil spills can impact sea turtles both in nearshore and oceanic habitats. Spill that occur miles from nesting beaches or feeding grounds can impacted these areas and sea turtles as ocean currents move the oil, generally towads the coast. Oil spills close to the coast can impact nesting beaches by making them unsuitable for nesting and any nests in the beach may be destroyed by the oil as it washes onshore.

Because the ocean is so large, many assume that pollutants will be diluted and dispersed to safe levels, but in reality they create havoc on the oceans' natural balance. Some toxins even become more concentrated as they break down and enter the food chain. Sea turtles are affected by pollution in more ways than one; they do not have to directly ingest a tar ball, for example, to be affected by it. Small marine animals, on the lower levels in the food chain, like plankton, absorb these chemicals as they feed. The chemicals then accumulate in these animals' bodies, which makes the toxins much more concentrated than in the surrounding water. These small animals are then consumed by larger animals, like sea turtles, which continues to increase concentration levels of chemicals and pollutants.

Species Affected: All species of sea turtles are affected by marine pollution.

The Solution: Education is important to solving marine pollution. The public can get involved in this issue by:
  * Following local codes enforcing fertilizer bans near waterways;
  * Using less chemical fertilizers, opting for natural compost instead;
  * Buying organically produced food and products;
  * Reducing oil consumption by carpooling, using public transportation or buy energy-efficient vehicles;
  * Speaking out against off shore drilling;
  * Get informed about local waste disposal to ensure that untreated waste water isn't introduced to natural waterways and oceans.

Case Study: One of the greatest impacts from oil has proven to be consumption. A study of loggerhead turtles found that they will indiscriminately eat anything that appears to be the appropriate food size, including tar balls. The effects on the digestive system were large esophageal swelling that displaces the liver and intestines, causing severe swelling and buoyancy problems. The study also examined the effect of oil on all stages of life.

Related links:
  * Oil and Sea Turtles: Biology, Planning, and Response
  * Oil Toxicity and Impacts on Sea Turtles

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Caribbean Conservation Corporation  |  4424 NW 13th St. Suite B-11, Gainesville, FL 32609
Phone: 352-373-6441  |  Fax: 352-375-2449  |   1-800-678-7853  |  ccc@cccturtle.org