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For Immediate Release, June 29, 2010


Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity,, (415) 658-5308 
Todd Steiner, Turtle island Restoration Network,, (415) 663-8590 x 103
Carole Allen, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (281) 444-0564

Lawsuit Launched to Force BP and Coast Guard to Protect Turtles From Burning Alive 

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network today officially notified BP and the U.S. Coast Guard of their intent to sue to stop the burning alive of endangered sea turtles in the chaotic clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The letter is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit under 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 for the Center. “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.”

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 (TIRN). “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.

Today’s notice letter puts BP and federal agencies involved in the Deepwater Horizon response on official notice that their practices in the Gulf are resulting in the illegal and deeply inhumane deaths of threatened and endangered species, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. The letter asks BP and the Coast Guard to place qualified observers in the Gulf of Mexico who can survey for, and rescue, endangered turtles and other wildlife.

There is a concern that BP is limiting access to spill areas to suppress information about wildlife damages. As of today at least 429 sea turtles have been collected dead in the Gulf area; many more have likely been injured or killed but not found. In addition to the Kemp’s ridley, four other endangered sea turtle species are found in the Gulf of Mexico: greens, loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks. They rely on areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico for nesting, reproduction, feeding and migration. All of these turtles are at risk from poisoning from oil and careless controlled burns.

More than 150,000 people signed onto a petition calling on BP to stop blocking efforts to rescue sea turtles from the terribly painful death of burning alive. The petition was delivered to BP and the Coast Guard offices in Louisiana on June 28.

Click here for a photo of the Kemp’s ridley.

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