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The government and the media have convinced the majority of Americans that the oil spilled from last year’s BP oil disaster simply disappeared. The devastating effects the oil has had on the environment have been largely ignored. Dead sea turtles are the most recent casualty of the growing number of fish, animals, and birds that have begun washing up on the Gulf coast in recent weeks.
Shirley Tillman, a resident of coastal Mississippi, says that a trip to the beach is no longer relaxing. “It’s very upsetting,” says Shirley, a grandmother. “I have never found anything like this until after the oil spill. It used to be if you found a dead dolphin or turtle it was front page news around here. Now it’s no big deal.”
Along with the record number of dead dolphins, Gulfport’s Institute for Marine Mammal Studies reports it has collected 38 dead or stranded turtles in Mississippi this year, most in the past few weeks. The turtle tissue samples are turned over to the The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which does necropsies and further testing.
NMFS is investigating the deaths of these turtles and has increased surveillance, according to Blair Mase-Guthrie, a southeast regional stranding coordinator. “We are treating this very seriously,” she said. Possible causes could range from infectious disease, sudden shifts in water temperature, biotoxins such as red tide or the impact from the BP oil that polluted the area. “We’re not ruling out any factor.”
An NMFS spokeswoman in Washington stated that turtle strandings tend to happen in the spring. NMFS records show that there have been 13 turtle strandings in Mississippi so far and that number will likely rise as databases are updated. Even 13 dead turtles are an unusually high number for March. In the past three years, there were no turtles stranded in Mississippi until the beginning of April. In Texas, the situation is even grimmer. There have been 48 turtle deaths on shore this year, more than twice the number in 2009. After the BP blowout, the total number of on-shore turtle deaths in the Gulf shot up to 248, five times the number from the previous year.
Meanwhile coastal residents are becoming frustrated at the lack of response from their community. “I’m really mad. I’m finding dead turtles, birds, giant fish and other animals all over the beach. No one comes by to clean them up right away and people come down here and let their kids play next to them,” Tillman said. “And the water looks like chicken broth.”