Group: Dolphin, turtle deaths a sign of sick Gulf of Mexico

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Continuing deaths of dolphins and sea turtles are a sign that the Gulf of Mexico is still feeling effects

from the 2010 spill that spewed 200 million gallons of oil from a well a mile below the surface, a prominent environmental

group said Tuesday.

The deaths — especially in dolphins, which are at the top of the food chain — are "a strong indication that there is something

amiss with the Gulf ecosystem," said National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley.

"Both species have very high mortality the first year, slightly lower the second year and the third year even lower, but still

well above average," Inkley said. "To have these deaths above average for so long a period of time is unprecedented."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service has said previously that many turtles probably drowned

in shrimp nets and that brucellosis, a bacterial infection, was the only common thread in the dolphin deaths.

NOAA cannot comment about Inkley's statement

because its investigation of the deaths is part of the federal tally of

environmental

damage for oil spill litigation, spokeswoman Connie Barclay said.

The federation's report, "Restoring a

Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf

Oil Disaster,"

was based on previously reported research by other scientists,

including NOAA's updates on the dolphin and sea turtle strandings.

Studies of the spill's effects on wildlife

are preliminary and still being analyzed, said Craig Savage, spokesman

for BP America's

Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

"No company has done more, faster to respond

to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater

Horizon accident

in 2010," he said in an emailed statement. "As a result of our $14

billion cleanup effort, BP-funded early restoration projects

as well as natural recovery processes, the Gulf is returning to

its baseline condition — the condition it would be in if the

accident had not occurred."

The key to restoring the Gulf is conserving

coastal wetlands, and it's critical to make sure that any fines imposed

from the

trial now in progress in New Orleans go to that purpose, said

Inkley and David Muth, director of the federation's Mississippi

River Delta Restoration Program.

The trial will assign a percentage of

responsibility among BP PLC and other companies involved in the

Deepwater Horizon drilling

rig explosion April 20, 2010. It will also decide penalties under

both the Clean Water Act and the National Resource Damage

Assessment process.

NRDA uses scientific research to assess environmental damage and decide how to fix it. Under the RESTORE Act of 2012, 80 percent

of all Clean Water Act fines will go to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

BP has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties in a settlement

resolving its criminal liability for the spill. In separate federal settlements, rig owner Transocean Ltd. pleaded guilty

to a misdemeanor charge and agreed to pay a total of $1.4 in civil and criminal penalties.

The federation looked at how coastal wetlands and six species of animals are doing in the Gulf three years after the spill,

basing its assessment on historical status and what the future looks like as well as the spill's effect.

It rated the status of coastal wetlands, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and sea turtles as poor; bottlenose dolphins and deep-sea

coral as fair; and shrimp and brown pelicans as good.