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WildEarth Guardians Launches Series of Actions For Gulf Species

Cites Endangered Species Act as Best Defense for Gulf Coast

Denver, CO Aug. 30. Today, WildEarth Guardians launches a weeklong series of actions to protect endangered wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. The first is a lawsuit against the federal agencies that have failed to protect critical habitat for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The plight of this species, which depends on the Gulf of Mexico throughout its life cycle, had been slowly improving until the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. With 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, this sea turtle faces a bleak future.

Daily throughout this week, Guardians will unveil new actions under the Endangered Species Act to safeguard wildlife facing extinction in the Gulf of Mexico. Check for updates.

“The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is suffering greatly from the oil disaster in the Gulf,” stated Nicole Rosmarino, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time the government provides this animal with strong legal protections to avert future tragedies like the one it is now undergoing,” Rosmarino continued.

The Kemp’s Ridley has been federally protected since 1970 but has never benefited from a formal critical habitat designation for either its marine or coastal habitat. With such a designation, there would be more stringent controls on activities proposed in that habitat, including off-shore oil drilling. In mid-February, Guardians submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting critical habitat protection for this sea turtle and cited the threat of an oil spill. Two months later, the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig dramatically illustrated just how important the requested protections are.

More than 1,000 sea turtles have now been collected out of oil-contaminated water; half of those were dead (553 of 1072). Most of those collected alive (453 of 519) were covered in oil. According to NMFS, oil on sea turtles’ bodies can interfere with breathing, coat their eyes and skin, and cause them to become stuck in the oil. Oil ingested directly or when eating oil-contaminated prey items may interfere with digestion or cause internal organ damage.

The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is ranked as endangered throughout its range under the Endangered Species Act due to catastrophic declines. In a single day in 1947, 42,000 Kemp’s Ridleys nested. Its numbers dwindled to just 200 turtles nesting annually, from 1978-1991. Thanks to legal protections and prohibitions on turtle egg collection, the Kemp’s Ridley had rebounded, with over 12,000 nests recorded in 2006. But scientists fear this sea turtle’s population will suffer a downturn due to Deepwater Horizon.

“Had critical habitat been in place for the Kemp’s Ridley, the Deepwater Horizon disaster might well have been diverted. Now we have to look to the future, and it should start with stronger legal safeguards for endangered species in the Gulf. Everyone will benefit from such protections, including the human communities currently suffering from the oil spill,” stated Rosmarino.

In today's lawsuit, WildEarth Guardians is represented by Adam Abrams, Attorney, Texas Environmental Law Center (Austin) and Guardians staff attorney Melissa Hailey.

View the Kemp's ridley sea turtle range map (PDF)


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