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Charter Captain Claims Turtles Fried in Gulf Oil Fires

When BP and the U.S. Coast Guard set fire to spilled oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to keep it from reaching shore, are endangered sea turtles being burned alive?

VENICE, Louisiana, June 25, 2010 (ENS) -  Captain Mike Ellis is certain that when BP and the U.S. Coast Guard set fire to spilled oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to keep it from reaching shore, endangered sea turtles are also being burned -- alive.

A short video clip of him making this accusation posted on You Tube by conservation biologist Catherine Craig has upset wildlife lovers and conservationists already distraught over the widespread pollution of the gulf from BP's Deepwater Horizon spill.

Since the oil rig exploded and caught fire April 20, leaving the wellhead broken and gushing oil for the past 66 days, at least two million barrels of oil have spilled into the gulf at the rate of at least 35,000 barrels per day.

In an effort to keep some of that oil off the shores of four states, BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have been burning off some of the oil - and turtles floating on lines of seaweed are getting caught and burned along with the oil, says Captain Ellis.

He has seen the burning up close. Before the oil spill, Ellis ran a charter fishing business out of Venice, Relentless Sportfishing Charters. In his 33-foot custom-built catamaran, Ellis took clients out to catch tuna, dolphin, wahoo, swordfish and snapper.

The oil spill put an end to his fishing charters, so to support his family Ellis took a contract with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, to help save oiled wildlife.

Starting June 1, Ellis says, "My boat was used as the support vessel. I had NOAA vets on board. They would take oiled turtles from the water, clean and photograph them, record the information, doctor them and transport them to shore at the end of the day."

Then the turtles were shipped to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas quarantine for further doctoring, he said.

About a week into the contract, Captain Ellis says he encountered resistance from the U.S. Coast Guard and BP to his wildlife rescue efforts.

His vessel was about half a mile from one of the surface burns when, Ellis said, "A reservist Coast Guard commander came running up on us waving their arms telling us to get out of there. We were leaving the scene but I couldn't run fast, because they were doctoring a turtle. The engines were in gear and we were leaving the scene. But they didn't try to make radio contact."

"I'm a fisherman, I think a certain way," he said. "You got a thing called a VHF [radio]. Pick it up, hail me, I would have told them we were leaving. There was fire half mile from us, I knew it was there, I was leaving."

"The Coast Guard and BP wouldn't let us go in there to rescue turtles," he said. "They gave us coordinates to stay out of an area of about 12 by 13 miles. They just didn't want anyone out there in their way."

"There's a bunch of turtles out there, Ellis said. "It's pretty tricky to spot them, you've got to really know what you're looking for because you're seeing just a little bump among the oily lines of weed."

Ellis has never actually seen a turtle being incinerated, but he is certain that they are being caught in the planned burns. To date, 275 burns have been conducted, removing a total of more than 10 million gallons of oil from the open water, according to the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

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