How Do Oil Spills Affect Sea Turtles?
Oil spills pose severe threats to marine turtles and their habitats. While the oil doesn’t really stick on the sea turtles like in other aquatic species, it can get their eyes and mouth and into the lungs of the marine animals. Sea turtles are tough when it comes to physical damage. However, they are proven susceptible to the effects of chemical exposure to oil and anything else affected by it.
Sea turtles are migratory, often spending their life stages in various habitats. Because of that, they are highly vulnerable to oil spills no matter the life stage they are in. They are susceptible to the effects of an oil spill as eggs on the nesting beach, as hatchlings and juveniles, sub-adults and as adults foraging grounds and nesting on the beach.
Consumption of Oil and Preys Contaminated by Oil Spill
Oil spills are among the most devastating threats to marine life, including that of the endangered sea turtles. Sea turtles are primarily affected by oil spills because they don’t tend to avoid the areas where oil spills happen. Often, sea turtles continue to feed on those oil-contaminated areas. Sea turtles tend to eat prey or oil causing enormous complications for them.
Among the issues caused by ingestion of oil or prey contaminated by oil include damage to their internal organs, digestive problems, bleeding, gastrointestinal system inflammation, ulcers, and overall impact to the reproductive and immune systems of sea turtles. Oil spills are simply dangerous to the health of sea turtles.
External Effects of Oil
Sea turtles swimming in oil can cause external effects to them. Breathing oil vapors can cause injuries to sea turtles. The oil can injure the skin and eyes of the sea creatures, which results in increased chances of infection. Similarly, swimming in oil can cause the sea turtles to suffer from burns in the animal’s mucous membranes in the mouth and eyes.
Effects of Inhaling Oil Vapors
Oil vapors also have a significant impact on the health of sea turtles. The ocean surface is where sea turtles go to breathe. With their tendency to swim in oil spilled areas, they can also breathe toxic vapors of the oil. Those fumes can cause internal damage and irritation to the eyes, mouth, and respiratory system, as well as injure tissues or cause pneumonia.
Effects on Sea Turtle Nesting
When it is time for the females to lay their eggs, sea turtles go to beaches and dig holes for the eggs. The lay the eggs on those holes and cover them up until the eggs become hatchlings ready to make their way back to the ocean. Oil-contaminated beaches can hurt the eggs’ and hatchling’s health. As a result, they may have reduced survival rate further causing their endangered status.
How to Prevent This
The most effective way of preventing or solving this issue is collecting affected turtles as they can be rehabilitated. Many facilities are capable of restoring the sea turtles affected by oil spills in the US. Establishing more of these facilities near coastal areas will further help increase the sea turtles’ survival rate.