Sea Turtles Among Oil Spill Victims
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Elizabeth Shogren met with a team of turtle rescuers in Venice, Louisiana, and has their story.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: An evening thunderstorm is just about to hit as veterinarian Brian Stacy and his crew zoom back to the marina with precious cargo.
BRIAN STACY: We're about to unload here.
SHOGREN: What do you have?
STACY: We have four live turtles.
SHOGREN: Oh, they're little guys.
STACY: Yes. It's a small hawksbill.
SHOGREN: Gooey brown oil clings to its back flippers. Stacy's team found it floating almost motionless about 20 miles from the Deepwater Horizon well. Then Stacy shows me a Kemp's ridley.
STACY: You can see the oil in his mouth and along his eyes, so quite concerning.
SHOGREN: Stacy washed them on board but couldn't get them cleaned.
STACY: Today, the oil is a lot more tenacious. We've usually been able to get a lot more off of it before we put them on the transports. But these guys were extensively oiled.
SHOGREN: Do you think these turtles will make it?
STACY: I think these will. Without intervention, just floating around out there, I don't think so.
SHOGREN: The last turtle Stacy shows me is a dead Kemp's ridley. It's covered from nose to tail with thick oil, the consistency of wet cement. Stacy says it's heartbreaking, especially because there are so few sea turtles left.
STACY: It's frustrating. It's upsetting. It makes me really worry about the impacts that we're not going to be able to assess just because the Gulf is a big place, and it makes me really frustrated that there's not a whole lot we can do with it, with the scale of this.
SHOGREN: How do you find such a little turtle in a big sea?
STACY: It's very difficult, especially when they're covered in oil and they're in big pools of oil.
SHOGREN: Veterinarian Michael Ziccardi is coordinating the turtle rescues. He sends helicopters with the boats.
MICHAEL ZICCARDI: What the helicopter can do is it can see where heavy patches of oil are and actually directs the ships to that area.
SHOGREN: Ziccardi is a professor at the University of California-Davis, and a veteran of more than 30 oil spills, but he says scientists know very little about the effects of oil on turtles. One thing they're learning is that turtles swallow oil. Teams cleaning the rescued live ones say some regurgitate oil days after they're plucked from the Gulf.
ZICCARDI: All of those animals out there that are oiled are truly my patients that I'm trying to save.
SHOGREN: Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.
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