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ESR 41:17-37 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01009

REVIEW
Oil spills and sea turtles: documented effects and considerations for response and assessment efforts

Bryan P. Wallace1,2,11,*, Brian A. Stacy3, Eduardo Cuevas4, Carly Holyoake5, Paulo H. Lara6, Ana Claudia J. Marcondes6, Jeffrey D. Miller7, Hugo Nijkamp8, Nicolas J. Pilcher9, Ian Robinson8, Nicolle Rutherford10, Gary Shigenaka10

1Conservation Science Partners, Inc., Truckee, CA 96161, USA
2Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC 28516, USA
3Office of Protected Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Marine Fisheries Service, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
4CONACYT - Universidad Autónoma del Carmen, Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche 24155, Mexico
5School of Veterinary Medicine, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia, 6150, Australia
6Fundação Pro TAMAR, Praia do Forte, Bahia 48280-000, Brazil
7Biological Research and Education Consultants, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
8Sea Alarm Foundation, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
9Marine Research Foundation, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
10Emergency Response Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
11Present address: Ecolibrium, Inc., 5343 Aztec Drive, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Hydrocarbon (i.e. oil) extraction, transport, consumption, and pollution occur daily in marine environments, threatening vulnerable natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity. However, threats of episodic oil spills to imperiled marine species are not as well-studied as more acute, readily apparent threats such as incidental capture in fisheries and habitat degradation. We performed a global review of spill incident databases to evaluate reported effects of oil spills on sea turtles, which are flagship species of the world’s oceans. Our goals were to (1) summarize available information about oil spills and their effects on sea turtles; (2) identify major knowledge gaps; and (3) provide recommendations related to oil spills and sea turtles for managers, researchers, and conservation groups around the world. Over 2000 oil spill incidents of variable magnitude (range: ~20 to >1 million barrels) have occurred worldwide in the past 60 yr in areas where sea turtles are found, but resulting effects on sea turtles have been reported in less than 2% of those incidents. Further, evidence indicates that most effects are related to heavy external oiling, while chemical effects of oil exposure have not been well defined. We recommend that, where available, resources be prioritized to document co-occurrence of turtles and oil, the degree and nature of oil exposure, and mortality and reproductive losses to individual sea turtles and their populations caused by spills and spill response activities. These data will best inform assessments of the extent and magnitude of adverse effects of oil spills on sea turtles.


KEY WORDS: Oil spills · Oil exposure · Spill response · Sea turtles · Deepwater Horizon


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Cite this article as: Wallace BP, Stacy BA, Cuevas E, Holyoake C and others (2020) Oil spills and sea turtles: documented effects and considerations for response and assessment efforts. Endang Species Res 41:17-37. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01009

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