Guest blogger Shirley Siluk Gregory, who lives on Florida’s Gulf coast, shares her findings from conversations with officials in the National Park Service in Pensacola, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alabama. This is a repost from the Gulf Oil Monitor.
For the folks in charge of protecting the wildlife and natural resources along the Florida Gulf Coast, the oil from BP’s blown-out Macondo well looms like a deadly disease, with few symptoms yet visible but a diagnosis that suggests things could get much, much worse.
Along the dazzling white beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore (run by the National Park Service), Richard Clark, chief of science and resources management, points out some of the greatest reasons for concern: sections of cordoned-off beach where nesting birds have laid their eggs or are already raising chicks, along with a few smaller protected areas where vulnerable life “” sea turtle eggs “” hides unseen below the sand.
“There’s a lot of oil out there,” Clark says, adding that so far the signs on shore have been limited to occasional pea- or marble-size tarballs. “We’ve had different pulses. We never know where it will happen. My greatest nightmare would be the mass sludge happening.”
A landfall of oil like the one seen farther west in Louisiana could devastate the populations of young birds and turtles just emerging from their eggs. It’s a terrible thing to contemplate, even moreso since the National Seashore is home to 23 endangered species in all.
Just a bit west in Alabama’s Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, oil is already present just 50 yards from sea turtle nests, says refuge manager Jereme Phillips. If any should wash onto the nests, contingency plans are in place to gently replace the oiled sand with clean sand, he says.
Of greater concern, though, is what happens when the turtles “” green sea turtles, loggerheads, leatherbacks and the critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley “” hatch and try to make their way toward the sea, something that could start soon and continue through mid-October.
Officials and volunteers already keep a close eye on sea turtle nests as hatching time approaches.
“A lot of our nests can have over 100 hatchlings,” Clark says. “We literally babysit that nest to make sure the hatchlings get into the Gulf.”
This year, though, that babysitting is even more urgent as “” day after day “” the oil continues spreading through the Gulf.
“We’re looking at a range of options, including relocating hatchlings to areas where there’s not oil,” Phillips says. That could mean sending young turtles as far away as the Atlantic coast to protect them from oil-fouled waters.
“It’s unprecedented,” says Clark. “But under these circumstances, it’s something that’s being addressed.
— Shirley Siluk Gregory