Sea turtle species globally are threatened with extinction due to dwindling numbers. Their numbers have decreased due to a number of factors, including deaths due to fishing, pollution such as plastic bags and oil spills. There are numerous other factors included in declining populations of sea turtles, but in the Gulf of Mexico the concern runs high due to oil spills.
Namely the BP oil spill of last year has been of considerable concern in the Gulf of Mexico region. The sea turtle of highest concern is the Kemps ridley, considered the most endangered of the species. The oil spill last year took place during key nesting times and locations. Due to this, many conservationists are concerned that the population of Kemps ridley will decline due to the impacts of oil.
Of the 456 oil covered turtles rescued last year after the spill, the majority were Kemps ridley. The oil could have a number of impacts on the species, including disrupting their reproduction. It is unknown how many turtles perished in the oil spill due to juveniles and males generally not coming to shore. In addition to this, it is unknown whether those that do survive will have long-lasting problems, such as being unable to reproduce.
Prior to the oil spill, conservationists hoped to see 10,000 Kemps ridleys’ nesting females by the year 2020. The Kemps ridleys were on the way to recovery and may have met the goal, however, it is now unknown whether they will. In order to get a better grasp on the potential lingering effects of the oil, scientists are increasing their data collection on nesting females this year. Scientists are testing nesting females’ blood, sampling from embryos which have died and even taking samples from hatchlings. These tests will enable the scientists to identify whether the oil is having lingering effects on the mothers and young.
As of May 24th, 155 Kemps ridley nests have been confirmed on the beaches of Texas. This is a positive sign for the species as this is a greater total than counted in the entirety of 2010. 155 nests is also greater than those found by May 24th in the years of 2008 and 2009. Sea turtles take a decade or more to reach maturity so the true impacts of the BP oil spill may not be felt for yeas to come but conservationists remain hopeful.