Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Watch : Sea Turtle Dead Anger Mississippi Beaches,BP Oil Spill

Shirley Tillman is used to seeing a few drum fish, sea gulls or jelly fish wash up on nearby sandy shores. It’s a fact of life living by the sea. But in the past few weeks Shirley has come across something she’s never seen before; dead sea turtles washing up on beaches near spring break vacationers.

They are part of a growing number of dead fish, animals and birds she and other Mississippi residents have photographed washing in with the tides in recent weeks.“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.”

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.”NMFS records show there have been 13 turtle strandings in Mississippi so far this year, a number that will rise as databases are updated.That year, the total number of on-shore turtle deaths in the Gulf shot up to 248, nearly five times the number from the previous year.

“It’s so sad,” says Mississippi coastal resident Laurel Lockamy who found a dead sea turtle over the weekend wrapped in orange tape, ready for retrieval.

Turtles are just the latest sea life deaths to get federal attention. So far this year, at least 134 dolphins have been found stranded along the Gulf coast, about four times the average number.

Nearly half of the dolphins were newborns or juveniles. Earlier this year NOAA issued an Unusual Mortality Event for dolphins, which triggers a federal investigation into the deaths.

Recently, dolphin tissue samples from independent marine labs were confiscated and sent to federal labs for analysis due to a federal investigation into their cause of death. NMFS is continuing to do testing on the turtles and dolphins but test results aren’t expected soon.

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