The arribada at Rancho Nuevo beach in Tamaulipas, when thousands of Kemp’s ridley turtles come out of the sea (the poisoned Gulf of Mexico) and nest en masse, lasts from April to June, so it is pretty much over, but there will still be stragglers till August. Most of the adults are circulating in the Gulf of Mexico, where some, the Obama Administration confirms, have been corraled into British Petroleum’s 500,000 square mile “burn fields,” which have subsequently been ignited. At least 424 turtles have been burned to death, not only ridleys, but four of the other species that frequent the gulf. In addition, the sargasso seabeds near shore are favorite haunts of young adult ridleys, and they are great oil collectors, so there is probably even greater mortality in them. BP could be looking at a $50,000 fine from U.S. Fish and Wildlife for each turtle, all seven marine species being endangered, the ridley the most critically. The Manchester Guardian’s environment section had a story about this horror on the 25th.
My friend Ben Kernan, who has an apartment on Panama Beach, which has been hit by the oil, says leatherback turtles, the largest of the marine turtles, nest on it, so it must be awful for them, too. The Montreal Gazette reported also on the 25th that there are 51 confirmed reports of marine mammal strandings, some dead, some alive, all covered with oil : one sperm whale, three spinner dolphins and 67 bottlenose dolphins. Three dead spinner dolphins were also found on Mexico Beach, south of Panama City, without symptoms of petrochemical exposure. Dolphins travel in pods to which they are selflessly loyal. If one gets sick they hold him up to the surface so he can breathe.
The Gulf of Mexico also has the world’s greatest concentration of cold seap communities, bizarre sunless abyssal ecosystems, as deep as 2.7 kilometers down, whose plant species live by chemosynthesis, instead of photosynthesis, there being no light, processing cold petrochemicals seeping up from the icy seabed, and whose animal species include clams, mussels, and two-meter tube worms that are centuries old that live off microbes that feed on the emissions of methane and hydrogen sulphide. I wonder if these creatures will benefit and proliferate from the disaster. There are an estimated 8000 cold seap communities in the gulf, and there is a management conflict with the deep-sea oil operations, says Charles R. Fisher, a professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, who has an article on them in the journal Nature. One sector that is definitely benefiting are the 1700 boats makers, including Stanley boats of Ontario, are going great guns because of the oil spill. Stanley boats are aluminum and business is booming. The company has three million dollars worth of new orders.
Meanwhile Alex, the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is threatening to veer toward the gulf in the next few days. If it does, more oil could be pushed into fragile coastal ecosystems where the turtles and the shrimp and the waterbirds are, and the westerly winds could push the oil into the western gulf, which is so far slick-free.