A rare and endangered species of sea turtle is being burned alive in BP's controlled burns of the oil swirling around the Gulf of Mexico, and a boat captain tasked with saving them says the company has blocked rescue efforts.
Mike Ellis, a boat captain involved in a three-week effort to rescue as many sea turtles from unfolding disaster as possible, says BP effectively shut down the operation by preventing boats from coming out to rescue the turtles.
"They ran us out of there and then they shut us down, they would not let us get back in there," Ellis said in an interview with conservation biologist Catherine Craig.
Part of BP's efforts to contain the oil spill are controlled burns. Fire-resistant booms are used to corral an area of oil, then the area within the boom is lit on fire, burning off the oil and whatever marine life may have been inside.
"Once the turtles get in there they can't get out," Ellis said.
Dr. Brian Stacey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told NPR last week that, although there are five different species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico, the majority of the ones found affected by the oil spill are Kemp's Ridleys, "the rarest of them all."
Ellis confirmed that he's mostly been seeing Kemp's Ridleys.
Mike Michael at Gather.com reports that Kemp's Ridleys are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Harming or killing one "carries stiff fines and civil penalties ($500-$25,000) assessed for each violation. Criminal penalties include possible prison time and fines from $25,000-$50,000."
Michael suggests that, given the size of the fines BP could face as a result of the turtle deaths, the company may be happy to let turtles burn, as it would make it impossible to calculate exactly how many turtles died. He notes that the bodies of dead animals are being kept as evidence to determine how much in fines BP will be liable for.
"Is BP destroying evidence to keep their liability down?" he asks. "Is anyone going to stop them?"
Asked if he had suffered health problems as a result of being exposed to the chemicals swirling around the Gulf, boat captain Ellis said he had been suffering from "pretty wicked headaches," but said he didn't know "if that was just from seeing everything you know just destroyed and just disgusting."