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Oil Spills

The Problem:Oil spills, especially recently, can greatly harm sea turtles. Oil can sit on the surface of the water and though it won't stick to sea turtles like it would to other marine species, it 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 do large spills pose a problem for 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 in both nearshore and oceanic habitats. Spills that occur miles from nesting beaches or feeding grounds can impact these areas and sea turtles as ocean currents move the oil, generally towards the coast. Oil spills close to the coast can impact nesting beaches by making them unsuitable for nesting. Any nests on 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 destroy the oceans' natural balance. Some toxins become even more concentrated as they break down and enter the food chain. Sea turtles are affected by oil 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 are also affected by the pollutants.

Species Affected: All species of sea turtles can be affected by oil spills.

The Solution: Education is important to solving marine pollution. The public can get involved in this issue by:
* Reducing oil consumption by carpooling, using public transportation or buying energy-efficient vehicles;
* Speaking out against offshore drilling.

Case Study: On April 20, 2010, the world was shocked by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. A constant stream of crude oil leaked from the rig into the ocean for months before the leak was stopped. Finally, on July 15, 2010, British Petroleum, which was found responsible for the explosion, was able to plug the leak. The impact this spill had on the environment was catastrophic. Government estimates show that about 4,928,100 barrels of oil was discharged from the spill. It covered about 28,958 square miles and reaching the shores of multiple coastal states.

Green, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles were affected by the spill both internally and externally. The damage of oil to a sea turtles skin can cause it to come off in layers while leaving areas inflamed and susceptible to infection. Digested oil, fumes, and tar balls are deadly to sea turtles. With a habit of eating anything that looks similar to a familiar food source, sea turtles are at great risk of ingesting oil that can damage all internal organs and eventually lead to death. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, pictures surfaced of turtles soaked in oil, almost unrecognizable as turtles.

As of November 2, 2010, 609 sea turtles were found dead in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill proves to have destroyed much of the marine life and marine ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles may not have been the only animals affected by the spill, but they certainly faced an unimaginable amount of damage.

Related links:
  * Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
  * Sea Turtles & the Oil Spill Disaster

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