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Report: Sea turtles face big Gulf deaths

New Orleans -- Sea turtles are likely to see significant, long-term population loss from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a marine conservation and advocacy group said Thursday.

The gulf is home to five sea turtle species, four of which were already listed as endangered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the fifth considered in danger of extinction, said Oceana, a conservation group based in Wasnington.

"When you add to it the deluge of toxic chemicals, it makes it that much more difficult," Jacqueline Savitz, who leads Oceana's efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.

The oil could increase deformities, injure mature females and hurt hatching success rates, Oceana said.

Once hatchlings are born and join the rest of the population, they will potentially face direct oil exposure, contaminated prey and oil in their habitats, the group said.

The turtles could also sustain chemical burns, respiratory-tract damage, gastrointestinal-tract damage and brain damage, Oceana said.

More than 350 sea turtles have been collected injured or dead from oil-spill area, the group said. But many more have likely died, with their carcasses likely carried out to sea by ocean currents or are eaten by predators, said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, an Oceana marine scientist and fisheries campaign manager who wrote a report about the sea turtles.

Continuing offshore drilling in the Gulf will lead to the population's extinction, Oceana said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI)

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