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Oil spill's effect on turtles and toads

A recently rescued oiled turtle ready for cleaning.
Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource & Management
A recently rescued oiled turtle ready for cleaning.

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.  More than 840,000 gallons spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP.  Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles... and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

This week, I talked with herpetologist David Mifsud, aka "Turtle Dave."  He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery. He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

He says most of the turtles brought to the rehab center survived and were released within the watershed. But more than 400 of them were too weak to be released before winter. So they’re still being held at the rehab center.

And Mifsud says it’s not clear how hard amphibians were hit by the spill. He says frogs and toads breathe through their skin, so oil... not so good for them. 

“Amphibians, we only collected 50-60 animals. They would’ve just died very quickly. So we probably lost in these areas huge numbers of our amphibian populations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to monitor the health of the wildlife and the levels of contamination that remain in the Kalamazoo River area.

A spokesperson with the FWS told me it will probably take years to fully understand the impacts of the oil spill.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.