Scientist Doug Inkley stuck a turquoise-glove covered hand in a patch of gloppy, floating oil about 10 miles off Louisiana’s southeastern tip on Friday afternoon and lamented: “If you had this in your gills and that’s how you breathe, you wouldn’t be alive anymore.”
Inkley, the senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation’s conservation programs, is especially concerned about the fate of sea turtles — the Gulf is home to five threatened or endangered turtle species — and the refusal of many officials to release species-specific data on the fate of Gulf wildlife thus far.
He eventually learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association that an estimated 80 percent of the 715 stranded sea turtles that have been brought in dead or alive since the spill are endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtles. On the water’s surface “the impact so far appears to be greatest on the sea turtles,” he said. “The number of sea turtles (affected) relative to the population size is truly alarming.”
Inkley added that, so far this year, the number of sea turtles found stranded or dead is more than six times the average. While some argue there’s no evidence yet connecting that spike directly to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he argues: “Try to explain to me anything else it could possibly be, unless it’s the man on the moon.”
With Tropical Storm Bonnie likely headed into the Gulf this weekend, Inkley spent most of Friday on a reconnaissance mission to see what he could see on the water’s surface off the coast of Venice, more than 50 miles from the spill site. Barges and ships evacuating people and equipment from the spill site dotted the landscape and calm seas.
As expected, the oil differed greatly from the black streams he saw in the same area two months ago. Now, somewhere between fresh oil and tar balls, it drips off his gloved hand like thick cake batter.
Inkley said he asked Department of Interior officials to break down bird deaths by species. They responded Friday that they could not produce that level of detail for legal reasons, Inkley said.
He argues that the high number of endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles among the dead provides a case in point for why species-specific information should be readily available.
“It’s frustrating because they are public resources and I think the public deserves to know,” he said.
Scientists often refer to sea turtles, who can take decades to grow to maturity, as the “elephants of the sea.” Their extended life cycle also means that they can take decades to replenish themselves if the population is substantially harmed.
In a somewhat risky move, the Sea Turtle Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation have undertaken a massive relocation of sea turtle eggs to Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. The eggs are highly susceptible to trauma, so only time will tell whether the risks of the Gulf outweigh the risks of the relocation.
After showing the oil to a small group of reporters, Inkley tried unsuccessfully to wash the sticky substance off his gloved hand. “I’ve got to get this off,” he said, pitying the oiled birds, most of whom are, “essentially, dead birds.”
“We’re looking at carbon here,” he added. “This is what our country’s addiction to carbon has produced.”