On Fri. June 25, S.C. Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Shane Boylan talked about the affects of the Gulf Coast oil spill on marine life, focusing on turtles in a press conference held at the Aquarium’s turtle hospital. The oil spill was a huge set back for an animal population that was doing well before the disaster struck.

About a month and a half ago, the Audubon Institute in New Orleans requested Dr. Boylan’s help. He spent several weeks working with a team of researchers on a scientific study of the endangered marine life in the Gulf Coast. The researchers found the bodies of dead turtles and brought tthem in for autopsies to collect data for the study. Next, they set up a mission to save the struggling turtles caught in the oil spill. Their schedule went like this:

Day one, Red Zone: Researchers set out at 5 a.m. to rescue as many turtles as they can before the oil could reach them. The animals are brought in around 7 p.m., when they are handed over to veterinarians. The vets clean the turtles, give them antibiotics and vitamins, and run a routine physical to make future plans. The turtles are put back into water (at the facility).

Day two, Yellow Zone: The team of researchers continue to clean more oil from the rescued animals. The thick oil gets caught in the crest of the turtles’ eyes, and they tend to regurgitate a thick paste which the researchers constantly have to clean. On day two, they once again check heart rate, blood, and other vital signs.

Day three, Green Zone: The turtles remain in this stage for a couple of weeks. They continue therapy and are internally and externally cleaned. By day four, the turtles are offered food. At this stage, many of the turtles are in good shape and, once they are confirmed to be stable, they are moved to research tanks.

“These turtles are a testiment to survival instincts,” says Boylan. Although the turtles seem to be surviving and regaining their strength, it could take months to years to see the long-term effects in these marine warriors. Boylan explains that turtles have an intense homing device that leads them back to the place they once lived; at the age of 30, the turtles tend to head home. For many, their home is in the Gulf.

The researchers and volunteers continue to rescue animals heading toward the oil. “Turtles have been getting damaged with spill and with no spill,” says Boylan. He explains that he has seen worse. But, for now, the researchers continue to hold onto the surviving turtles because, while the short-term effects seem to be recoverable, they are still unsure of the long-term effects and want to keep the animals from heading back into the huge oil spill that is currently conquering the Gulf Coast waters.

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