Around the turn of the 20th century, if you were in the upper class in America, you’d have probably, at some point, sat down to a nice dinner of Diamond Terrapin turtle. The species, native to Alabama, was a sought-after delicacy then – now, after decades of industrial growth and commercial fishing, it’s almost extinct. And the University of Alabama biologists who’ve been working hard since 2006 to revive the species are worried that the Gulf of Mexico’s recent oil spill will undo all of their efforts.
“Any community of organisms in the path of that spreading oil slick is in danger, and that is especially the case for a species like the Diamondback Terrapin turtle that is teetering on the brink of extinction in Alabama,” says Thane Wibbels, Ph.D.. He’s the UAB biologist who’s been most active in taking up the Terrapin’s cause.
To keep the Terrapin off the endangered list, Wibbels and his team had established a turtle hatchery on campus, near the Terrapin’s natural habitat in the Cedar Point Marsh – they had planned to launch many of their happy little turtlettes off into the beginning of the rest of their lives this week, setting them off into the wild to integrate into the ecosystem from whence they came. But those plans have been stymied by the oil spill – the team needs to wait until they know how much damage will be done, before they proceed.
So as the spill burns on, the story of the Diamondback Terrapin is just one more illustration of how many creatures, great and small, are at the mercy of Big Oil. Fortunately, Obama’s mad about it, and Big Oil is feeling the heat.