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BP disaster means turtles still bearing weight of world



Historically, when humans felt something to be true, they shaped a parable about it. The story, carrying the kind of truth understood only by the soul, was told and retold until it became woven into the mythos of the culture. When we in North America lost our mythological mind, so to speak, we lost our connection to stories, including a shared mythological figure, World Turtle.

If we or our immigrating ancestors didn't bring World Turtle along in myths from mother countries, including China and India, then we might only find World Turtle by studying the Iroquois Confederacy, who then populated (as some still do) the northeast, now partly Canada and the United States.

Study is not often a soul-touching way to encounter a revered being, but at least it might raise the question of why turtles (and tortoises for land-locked peoples) have for centuries been perceived as the "right" species to contain or bear the weight of the world.

Aside from carrying their homes on their backs and moving at a sane pace, turtles have survived every great deluge known to humankind. Well, perhaps all but one: the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Unseen at first, turtles were rocked by that deadly explosion on April 20, 2010, and suffered greatly in the months afterward. While we were told that the equivalent of 5,000 barrels of crude oil was leaking into the Gulf ecosystem each day, recently released BP memos place that gush between 68,000 and 138,000 barrels per day.

According to a report by, former BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix has been criminally charged with destroying evidence about what led to the spill. If convicted, Mix faces 20 years jail time and $250,000 fines on both counts. But a few million in fines will not take the oil off remaining Gulf turtles.

Of the seven distinct extant species of sea turtle, five of those species are suffering as a result of the spill, among them the endangered Kemp's Ridley. Last week, Greenpeace published new photos, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, showing turtles in the Gulf either covered in oil or dead on the beach. One photo simply shows 20 garbage bags, all filled with dead sea turtles. The photos were obtained from the NOAA, which counted more than 600 dead sea turtles from the Gulf.

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we're all inside the turtle's shell, still reeking of oil and waiting to see how things turn out.

To see the newly released photos, see

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