Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Effects of Oil on Sea Turtles

Photo: loggerhead turtleSea turtles can be exposed to oil when they surface for air, when younger turtles hide from predators in floating seaweed, or sargassum, or when older female turtles come to shore to lay eggs. Oil can cause burns and irritation to their skin, or keep them from moving freely.

Sea turtles can ingest oil if they mistake tar balls (clumps of oil) for food and eat them. Oil can cause damage to their organs.

Hatchlings can be affected when they cross an oiled beach on their way from the nest to the ocean. Baby sea turtles also spend a lot of time on the surface of the water where they are most likely to be exposed to oil.

During an oil spill, specially trained workers can dig up sea turtle nests and relocate the eggs to a safe place until they can hatch. Then they are released into a part of the ocean that is not contaminated with oil. During the Deepwater Horizon spill, almost 300 turtle nests were dug up, the eggs hatched, and then almost 15,000 hatchlings were released into a safe part of the ocean.

To learn more about sea turtles, please visit these pages from the National Wildlife Federation and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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