New Orleans, LA -- BP and the United States Coast Guard, defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and other animal protection and conservation groups, agreed today to measures designed to prevent the burning of endangered sea turtles during efforts to remove oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We are pleased that BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to take a variety of actions to prevent the horrific burning alive of endangered sea turtles," says AWI President Cathy Liss.
As part of efforts to contain the oil spill that continues to devastate the Gulf, BP has been using "controlled burns" whereby oil is corralled by fire resistant booms dragged through the water by “igniter” boats and then lit on fire. Endangered sea turtles, including the Kemp's ridley, one of the rarest sea turtles on Earth, are caught in the gathered oil and are unable to escape when the oil is set ablaze.
The law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, acting on behalf of the plaintiffs, negotiated the interim agreement with BP and the U.S. Coast Guard. The agreement was presented in federal court today to the Honorable Carl Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, who is presiding over the case.
By the terms of the agreement, BP and the Coast Guard stipulate that they will be ceasing burns until next week because of the weather. When the burns resume, the plaintiffs will be notified if there is a qualified biologist present for the purpose of locating and removing any turtles.
BP and the Coast Guard have further agreed to establish a standard operating protocol for the burns, and to convene a group of scientists to determine the necessary elements of the protocol to ensure the safety of the turtles.
In exchange for these measures, AWI and the other plaintiffs in the suit have agreed to withdraw their request for a Temporary Restraining Order calling for an immediate halt to the burns. The underlying suit, however, will remain in place.
"This agreement represents a critical stop-gap measure and a lifeline for these endangered turtles," says Liss. "We hope this is the first step in the development of clear operating procedures that allow BP to remove oil without inflicting further harm on the turtles."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Cathy Liss, President, AWI, (202) 446-2121
Tracy Silverman, General Counsel, AWI, (202) 460-3231
UPDATE (July 8, 2010):
As a result of our lawsuit, the Coast Guard held an emergency technical meeting this past Saturday, July 3, in which the plaintiffs’ attorneys and a group of biologists specializing in turtle rescue participated to discuss the most effective protocols for protecting sea turtles for the remainder of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. Based on input from plaintiffs and independent biologists, the Coast Guard provided plaintiffs with a draft of proposed best management practices that will be implemented for the remainder of the BP oil spill response.
According to the draft plan, BP and the Coast Guard will now follow standardized protocols for turtle search, rescue, and rehabilitation with the assistance of qualified third-party biologists, who will accompany all burn teams involved in controlled burns of oil, as soon as the burns resume (burns have been temporarily suspended at this time due to weather). Crews of biologists are currently standing by in the Gulf, ready to begin implementing the new turtle protection plan when burns resume.
The animal and environmental protection groups who filed suit to stop the burning of sea turtles are still working with BP and the Coast Guard to iron out details for a final protocol, and currently are providing comments and input on the draft protocol to ensure that the risk to turtles is minimized or eliminated.
After receiving comments from plaintiffs and independent biologists on the draft, the Coast Guard will issue its final practices and protocols for in-situ burns. Until that time, plaintiffs’ lawsuit will remain active before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in order to ensure that the final protocols follow the best available science in protecting sea turtles during any in-situ burns that occur in the Gulf.