What’s Killing All the Gulf Sea Turtles? BP and the Feds Point Fingers


The BP-government spin machine belched back into gear last week – and the intent, as it has been since Day One, is to dupe the world into believing that a 200-million-gallon oil spill has minimal impact on the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s what the spin masters would have us believe. So when record numbers of dead and “stranded” sea turtles started washing ashore across the Gulf Coast, the BP-government PR team went looking for someone or something to deflect attention from the 200 million gallons of crude and 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant that was pumped into the water over nearly 3 months.

So now we are being subjected to the same sort of attempt at damage control that we saw when all the dead dolphins came ashore not long ago. Is anybody else starting to see a pattern here? The spill has broken the back of the Gulf ecosystem, and now we’re dealing with the fallout.

In the case of the turtles as it was with the dolphins, the BP-government objective is to divert attention away from last year’s massive oil spill. So who or what to blame? What killed or stranded the 600 sea turtles – six times the annual average – that washed ashore in 2010 during the height of the BP spill? How do the damage-control wizards explain why, already this year, 563 sea turtles have been stranded in just four Gulf states?

Well, here’s what the spin maestros – backed by NOAA scientists – came up with: The shrimpers did it.

That’s what they’d have us believe. The shrimpers killed hundreds and hundreds of sea turtles – most of them endangered Kemp’s ripleys – with their big nets (and their devastated lives). It wasn’t the 200 million gallons of oil, it was the shrimpers.

Honestly, how much of this can we take? To draw attention away from the oil spill is one thing, but dragging down the reputation of an entire industry and workforce in the process, well that’s plumbing a whole new low (even by D.C. standards).

Despite the far-fetched nature of the accusation, the BP-government spinners came out firing – implying that the sharp spike in turtle deaths is due entirely to the fact that shrimpers aren’t using their regulation-mandated “turtle excluder devices.” TEDs, as they’re called, are designed to keep sea turtles like Kemp’s ripleys out of shrimpers’ gear and nets.

“This is a serious problem,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA’s national sea turtle coordinator. But Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, who’s also a shrimper, disagrees: “The only turtles that are being destroyed are the turtles in the oil spill.”

Did I mention that the official shrimp season just opened last week? And I should mention it opened to reports of small catches, and the shrimp that are being caught are much smaller than usual.

Admittedly, there are some shrimpers who do not use their TEDs properly, but it’s beyond ridiculous to blame the relatively few shrimpers who have been out on the water, and the fewer still who weren’t using their TEDs, for this enormous spike in turtle deaths and strandings that spans back to the height of last year’s spill. First of all, according to my sources in the scientific community, many of these turtles are found without any signs of exterior trauma. That is inconsistent with turtles that have been caught up in shrimping gear or nets. Secondly, the timing doesn’t add up. Shrimp season just opened officially last week, yet the turtles have been washing ashore at a steady clip for several months.

So the BP-government damage-control machine spins on – from the series of lowballed oil-flow estimates to the now-disgraced “vast majority of oil is gone” declaration to the all-clear (and sniff-tested) “seafood safety” announcement to the retracted denials of massive underwater oil plumes. And now the shrimpers, not the oil and dispersant, are killing all the sea turtles.

All in the name of damage control, or more accurately “liability control.” The BP-government motive becomes clear when you learn that the fine for killing endangered species, like Kemp’s ripleys, is $50,000 per turtle.

It’s hard to know how this situation will ultimately shake out, but one thing is for sure: It’s shaping up to be a long, tough season for Gulf shrimpers.

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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