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Explosive Rig Removals Impacting Sea Turtles, Dolphins
PORT FOURCHON, La. (WPMI) While the federally sanctioned killing of tens of thousands of red snapper has anglers and conservationists up in arms, Local 15 has learned critically endangered sea turtles and marine mammals are also feeling the impact of explosive rig removals.
According to records, 70 sea turtles were unaccounted for following federally monitored explosive removals in 2012. They were observed in pre-detonation surveys, but were not seen immediately after the explosions. The records state their fate is unknown.
Hopefully [those turtles] had swam out of the area, said Gregg Gitschlag, director of a federal rig observer program that monitors detonations. We realize this is not an infalliable type of program that we run.
When dead sea turtles and dolphins started washing up on the Texas coast in 1986 following a series of explosive rig removals, the National Marine Fisheries Service created the Galveston-based Platform Removal Observer Program.
The incident... raised a big red flag, program director Gitschlag told Local 15.
The observers use research vessels or accompany rig removal barges to conduct surface surveys and fly in helicopters for aerial surveys. If a marine mammal or sea turtle is spotted in the impact zone, the detonation is delayed.
We think its been pretty successful, Gitschlag said. Weve had only a couple of turtles since 1987 dead as a result [of the removals].
Members of the Helldivers, an extreme spearfishing club based in the New Orleans area, have questioned how an observer on the surface or in the sky could see underwater sea turtles that dont surface during a survey.
Weve seen turtles sleeping on the rigs 50 feet deep, Helldiver Louis Rossignol said. You can fly around all you want, youre not going to see them. Youre going to blow them up.
In response to those concerns, Gitschlag again conceded that the observer program is not infalliable. Gitschlag said his program once used divers to survey underwater, but marching orders and protocol have changed over the past 25 years.
According to the programs annual report in 2007, a dolphin surfaced within 50 yards of a platform seconds before detonation. It was not seen after the explosion, and its fate was also listed as unknown.
Its unfortunate but that sort of thing can happen, Gitschlag said.
The incident was captured on video, but Gitschlag said he could not locate a copy of it.
If the explosive charges used in a removal are small enough, companies can detonate without the presence of federal observers.
Following these non-monitored detonations, the companies are federally required to report data including marine mammals and sea turtles they harm.
I havent received any data at all, Gitschlag. Its been kind of a concern of mine. My gut feeling is that certainly someone has done some of these things.