The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion brought devastation to marine life, birds, the fishing industry, and beaches. Sea turtles were amongst the marine life severely impacted by the disaster. However, recent weeks have provided good news for sea turtles – how can we be sure that sea turtle populations in the gulf coast are finally recovering?
The Worst Marine Oil Spill and the Recovery of Sea Turtle Populations
What was the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
Taking place on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion is the largest ever marine oil spill - US government officials estimate the volume of oil that escaped peaked at more than 60,000 barrels per day.
The 5 main gulf states impacted by the oil spill are:
Following the oil spill, thousands of turtles died. It's thought that Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was particularly affected. It was also estimated that thousands more turtles originally from breeding populations elsewhere in the world were in the gulf region when the oil spill occurred. A local disaster therefore had global implications.
Credit: PJ Hahn Photography
The Emergence of New Sea Turtle Nests
Over a decade on from the catastrophic oil spill, there is evidence that sea turtle populations in the gulf coast are finally starting to recover. There are nests appearing in places that sea turtles haven’t laid eggs for many years.
The Chandeleur Islands
Sea turtles have recently hatched on Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands, which hasn’t happened for at least 75 years.
The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) have been closely monitoring the Chandeleur Islands since May of this year, as part of designing a project to restore the islands following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and various tropical weather occurrences. The CPRA said in a statement on August 17th that this discovery of nesting sea turtles will help shape the restoration plans and will ensure their nesting habitat is improved.
“We were very excited to learn that sea turtles are once again using the Chandeleur Islands for nesting,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “We’ve worked hard with our partners to restore wildlife and habitat in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through planning and implementing numerous projects, including on the Chandeleur Islands. The discovery of sea turtles nesting and successfully hatching is a huge step forward demonstrating the amazing resilience of fish and wildlife resources, including threatened and endangered species, and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect humans and nature.”
The sea turtles hatching on the Chandeleur Islands have been found to be Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and data is indicating that loggerhead sea turtles are also nesting there. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are currently listed as being Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with loggerhead sea turtles listed as Vulnerable.
It’s hoped that more nests are yet to be disovered on the Chandeleur Islands.
In Pensacola, leatherback turtles have hatched for the first time in over 20 years. Escambia County Natural Resources Management announced on social media on August 11th that the first nest of leatherback sea turtles in Escambia County in over 20 years had hatched. They stated that this is the only nest of leatherback sea turtles in northwest Florida this season and it’s the first to hatch since 2000. Leatherback sea turtles are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
More good news for sea turtles also recently came from Mississippi. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (MMS) announced on social media on August 6th that a sea turtle’s nest was found in Pass Christian. They state that a sea turtle’s nest hasn’t been found on the Mississippi mainland since 2018.
Hope For the Future
It's exciting to hear of new sea turtle nests being found in areas that haven’t had any for such long periods of time. We can only hope that this is just the start of more good news for sea turtles in the future. Show your support for these beautiful creatures with our range of Kemps ridley turtle apparel, or go for the cute factor with our baby sea turtle range! As always, our TenTen pledge plants 10 trees and donates 10% to environmental nonprofits for every order, so you’ll be doing the planet a favour as well as your closet!