I wasn’t really awake until our all-terrain vehicle bumped its way to the beaches of the Alabama Gulf coast. I held on tight in the dark and wondered whether this adventure had been such a good idea after all.
Then a pop of orange and red burst across the Gulf of Mexico. All that had been asleep was now vivid and busy. Sea gulls and terns swooped above the waves scanning for breakfast. A pod of dolphins broke the surface offshore. Salty fishermen appeared as the mist lifted, persistent, patient. I remember being on the beach early each morning during the BP oil disaster. Even through all the chaos the mornings were always magical as the sun rose over the Gulf. Six years later it is reassuring to see so much is well, but we know that there is still work ahead to restore this environment to its natural state. As I took in all these sights, I reminded myself: I’m here to do a job.
Dr. Witherington with an oiled Kemp’s ridley turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.
(This blog is part of a series of interviews with scientists who are championing marine research in the Gulf of Mexico.)
A research scientist with more than 24 years of experience in sea turtle biology and conservation, Dr. Blair Witherington has worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institutesince 1992. He is also an adjunct assistant professor, department of zoology, University of Florida; served as president of the 20th International Sea Turtle Symposium; and is vice chair of the Northwest Atlantic region of the Marine Turtle Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. He has authored or contributed to more than 40 scientific articles, monographs and book chapters. In addition, he has written five books on sea turtles and other natural history subjects.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster had an immediate and particularly harmful effect on early juvenile sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The worst marine oil spill in history also served to highlight a compelling need for assessments of open-sea habitats – research critically lacking in 2010, yet essential for conservation efforts and restoration planning.