NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – Animal welfare groups sued BP for burning endangered sea turtles and asked a federal court to stop the oil giant's "controlled burns" on the Gulf of Mexico spill.

"It is horrifying that these innocent creatures whose habitat has already been devastated by the oil spill are now being burned alive," Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) President Cathy Liss told the court in Louisiana.

The lawsuit filed by AWI, Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Animal Legal Defense Fund said BP was violating the Endangered Species Act and other laws with their "controlled burns" in the Gulf of Mexico.

They asked the court for a temporary restraining order to stop all burning activities "until... mechanisms are implemented that will prevent any additional sea turtles from being burned alive."

Containment efforts put in place since a BP-leased offshore oil rig exploded April 20 unleashing the worst oil spill in US history include "controlled burns," in which oil is gathered by ship-towed floating booms and set on fire.

"Endangered sea turtles, including the Kemp's ridley, one of the rarest sea turtles on Earth, are caught in the gathered oil and unable to escape when the oil is set ablaze," the animal welfare groups said.

They said some 430 sea turtles from endangered species have perished so far in the oil spill.

"While cleaning up the catastrophic oil spill is critically important, so too is doing it in a way which doesn't destroy wildlife in a flagrantly unlawful manner," said Liss.

The groups said BP should remove all turtles from the oil gathered for a controlled burn before it is set on fire.