The unusually high mortality reported among endangered sea turtles in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico raises legitimate fears for the future of these ocean-dependent creatures. An initial survey carried out 10 days after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout found 156 dead turtles, most of them Kemp's Ridleys. The case of this species, now in its nesting season, is particularly poignant. It has been saved from critical decline after an oil spill in the Gulf in 1979 from the Ixtoc 1 rig caused severe degradation of its nesting area. Miraculously, its numbers bounced back, from a few hundreds to several thousands, thanks to good conservation. The plumes of oil in the ocean now threaten that outcome. Decades of painstaking work by scientists, wildlife officials, and lay turtle lovers could now be undone. In a morbid twist, one website started accepting serious bets on the possible extinction of the Kemp's Ridley due to oil pollution. Such an end for these long-surviving creatures would be a shocking price to pay for the failure of the oil industry and governments to adhere to environmental safety norms. Surely, the time has come to end laissez faire regulatory policies that have allowed the oil industry to throw environmental safety to the winds.
The danger to the Kemp's Ridley from BP's Deepwater Horizon has turned the attention of conservation groups to the need for massive community mobilisation for rescue and rehabilitation in the near future. Here, the initiative of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, a science-based non-profit organisation, to get rescuers trained in handling oil-affected turtles is laudable. The CCC initiative to celebrate Sea Turtle Day on June 16, and encourage citizens to have high-profile sea turtle ‘parties' in their neighbourhoods, is promising. Such events provide much-needed information on the long evolutionary heritage of these animals and fast-emerging threats. Such awareness is vital to impress upon legislators that permission for offshore drilling activity, which often translates into near-shore well sites, could prove devastating to the nesting beaches of turtles. There is also a strong case to inspect anew the drilling rigs in operation, to ascertain the safety mechanisms available to prevent environmental damage in an accident. Marine conservation groups have been particularly worried about the ability of a bigger BP-owned oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantis, to handle a similar accident. It should be evident from the harm done recently that a green future for turtles and all other life lies in an energy paradigm that diverges from oil.