Density and exposure of surface-pelagic juvenile sea turtles to deepwater horizon oil


McDonald, Schroeder, Stacy et al.


June 1, 2017


McDonald, T. L., B. A. Schroeder, B. A. Stacy, B. Wallace, L. A. Starcevich, J. Gorham, M. C. Tumlin, D. Cacela, M. Rissing, D. B. McLamb, E. Ruder, and B. E. Witherington (2017). “Density and exposure of surface-pelagic juvenile sea turtles to deepwater horizon oil”. In: Endangered Species Research 33, pp. 69-82. DOI: 10.3354/esr00771.


DWH, deepwater horizon oil spill, green sea turtle, gulf of mexico, hawksbill sea turtle, kemp, loggerhead sea turtle, oil exposure, oiling, s ridley sea turtle, surface-pelagic


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill posed a severe threat to surface-pelagic sea turtles because the surface convergence zones, which provide vital habitat by aggregating pelagic Sargassum and other floating material, also aggregated floating oil. Following the DWH spill, turtle rescue operations between 17 May and 9 September 2010 documented 937 juvenile sea turtles in the spill area and examined 574 captured turtles. Of the captured turtles, 81% were visibly oiled. Transect searches in convergence zones found Kemp’s ridleys (51% of individuals), green turtles (37%), loggerheads (7%), hawksbills (2%), and unidentified sea turtles (2%). Line-transect methods estimated the density of all surface-pelagic sea turtles in surface convergence zones to be 3.32 km2 (95% CI = 2.82–3.88), and the density of heavily oiled turtles to be 0.24 km2 (95% CI = 0.15–0.39). Turtle densities and the areal extent of heavy oiling probability were used to estimate total number of turtles exposed to DWH oil. We estimate approximately 402000 surface-pelagic sea turtles were exposed, and of those, 54800 were likely to have been heavily oiled. Our estimates formed the basis of surface-pelagic juvenile sea turtle mortality estimates included in the DWH natural resource damage assessment.