Wildlife advocacy groups have outlined their intentions to sue BP and the U.S. Coast Guard in an effort to stop the practice of “controlled burns” in the Gulf of Mexico until endangered sea turtles can be rescued. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network issued a press release Wednesday:
The lease that governs BP’s operations requires the company to comply with all environmental “statutes and regulations.” BP’s actions in killing and otherwise harming and harassing endangered sea turtles constitute flagrant violations of its lease with the United States. Killing or harming endangered sea turtles is a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“The spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at 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.”
Endangered sea turtles, including Kemp’s ridleys, that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico are also being caught in the corrals being created by BP. This fact has been confirmed by Obama administration wildlife officials at National Marine Fisheries Service.
Shrimp boat captains, whose ships are used to corral the oil into a 60- to 100-foot-diameter area before igniting it, are also joining the lawsuit:
A boat captain who had been rescuing sea turtles reported that BP started a burn operation before the rescue crew could survey the area and rescue the turtles. BP is using “controlled burns” in an attempt to contain the spill. Boats create a corral of oil by dragging together fire-resistant booms and then lighting the enclosed “burn box” on fire. If turtles are not removed from the area before the fire is lit, they are burned alive. The same Sargassum seaweed mats that are collecting oil also draw sea turtles, which use them for food and shelter. Unfortunately that leaves turtles, particularly young ones, vulnerable to being oiled and burned.
“BP is burning turtles alive and it is cruel, heartless and a crime we can’t and won’t allow to continue,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Sea turtles were critically endangered before BP created America’s worst environmental catastrophe, and every effort possible must be taken to rescue endangered turtles from this oil spill. BP needs to reverse course and help double our efforts to rescue sea turtles, not prevent their recovery.”
“Kemp’s ridleys have struggled back from near extinction; they deserve more than dying in purposefully set oil fires,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Director and TIRN board member.
The lawsuit was filed in New Orleans on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Legal Defense Fund.