How the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacted Thousands of Sea Turtles

First Posted: Dec 23, 2015 11:36 AM EST

A new study reveals a bit more about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted sea turtles. It shows that over 320,000 juvenile sea turtles from populatiosn throughout the Atlantic Ocean were likely present in the northern Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day oil spill.

"There is a perception that the spills impacts were largely contained to the northern Gulf of Mexico, because that is where the oil remained," said Nathan Putman, one of the researchers, in a news release. "However, this overlooks the movement of migratory and dispersive marine animals into the area from distant locations."

In this latest study, the researchers used a computer model to backtrack virtual particles from the Gulf of Mexico spill site in order to determine the probability of young sea turtles arriving to this area from across the Atlantic. The amount of sea turtles in the vicinity of the oil spill was derived by forward-tracking particles from 35 major nesting beaches using knowledge of their population sizes, ocean-stage durations, and survival rates.

In the end, the researchers found that about 320,000 green, loggerhead, and Kemp's ridley turtles were likely present within the spill site. More than 95 percent of the sea turtles present at the spill site are thought to have originated from outside of the U.S., including from populations throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, northern South America, and western Africa.

"Our findings give new geopolitical context to the scope of the spill, placing its impacts far beyond the present focus on the northern Gulf of Mexico," said Putman.

The findings are published in the journal Biology Letters.

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