Dead turtles found on Dan River bank after coal ash spill

DANVILLE, Va. — Pictures a Danville fisherman took of two dead turtles on the Dan River bank have been shared more than 1,000 times online.

The pictures come in the wake of 82,000 tons of coal ash leaking into the Dan River from a Duke Energy site.

Morris Lawson never intended to create so much attention with his pictures. “But I’m sort of glad people are seeing what’s happening here,” he pointed out.

Lawson said the river is his second home. He fishes there at least four times a week and knows the wildlife and the water.

He said Duke Energy’s coal ash spill is already changing things on the Dan River.

“You can step off right there and you’re going to go up in six inches of ash,” he said of the river bank.

Last Tuesday, Lawson was at the boat ramp near Schoolfield Dam in Danville when he found two turtles dead in two different locations on the river bank.

“One turtle was at the dam up on the bank about two feet out of the water. And the other turtle was located about where that tree is [by the boat ramp] about two feet up out of the water on the bank. And he was on his back. The other one was on his belly,” explained Lawson.

Jenny Edwards is a program manager with the Dan River Basin Association.

“We have heard some reports that turtles appear to be crawling up on the banks and dying,” she told FOX8.

Edwards added, “Turtles should be hibernating this time of year. It’s cold. They hibernate down in the mud. The fact that they’re crawling up on the bank and dying, even if it’s not in mass numbers… It’s highly unusual.”

She emphasized, “Even though we can’t directly link it to coal ash, this is exactly the sort of thing we expected to start seeing.”

According to a release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff reported Monday that they have not directly observed any sick or dead fish or wildlife in the Dan River. Staff with the service also reported Monday that a few residents reported seeing dead turtles at two Virginia parks.”

The release also said, “The service’s biologists visited both of those sites but didn’t find any carcasses. One dead turtle the service was provided will be sent this week to a wildlife veterinarian for examination.”

The same release detailed the DENR’s latest water quality sampling plan. They have started sampling water quality at the upper end of the John H. Kerr Reservoir in Virginia, it said, in response to the coal ash spill in Eden. It’s one of five water sampling sites at which DENR is now testing.

“This is unchartered territory,” Edwards said of the spill. “We’ve never dealt with something like this on the Dan River.”

She was at a legislative meeting in Raleigh Monday which partially addressed the coal ash spill. She said Duke Energy and DENR officials spoke about the timeline of the spill and notification of the public.

But, she said, the plan for cleanup is still unclear. “I think there are a lot of unanswered questions on what’s next. I certainly did not walk away with a clear picture of what’s next, and who’s in charge and how that is going to unfold.”

Lawson worries his pictures could just be the beginning. “A turtle’s tough. A turtle is a tough animal. If it’s killing the turtles?” he questioned, shaking his head. “It means there’s something bad coming in the long run. That’s just the first of it.”

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