Across the globe, populations of many highly migratory species of fish, turtles and marine mammals have hit dangerously low levels. For example, Western Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 80 percent, and their Eastern Pacific counterparts have declined by more than 97 percent. Many of these species play vital roles in maintaining balanced ocean ecosystems full of diversity and life. As we work to reverse these declines, environmentalists have to ensure that everything we do has the greatest positive impact. This means that we’ll need smart management at home and solutions that protect highly migratory species wherever they roam.
New research suggests that well-intentioned U.S. regulations designed to help species like sharks and sea turtles may actually create a net harm to imperiled sea life.
This unintentional negative dynamic can occur when a country, like the United States, unilaterally adopts a regulation to protect an imperiled species such as sea turtles or sharks caught as bycatch. If the regulation leads to decreased fishing domestically and shifts fishing internationally to countries where bycatch rates are higher, the net result can be a higher number of bycatch deaths for the very species the regulation intended to protect. This phenomenon has been called the “transfer effect.” Read More »
Tracks from Kemp's ridley sea turtles can be seen on a stretch of beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico earlier this year. Photo courtesy of LightHawk.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nesting season is winding down for the summer, and I'm happy to report that nest numbers are still on the rise! While the Kemp's ridleys still are the world's most critically endangered sea turtle, they are making a huge come back in recent years.
Until half a century ago, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridleys would surge onto Mexico’s Gulf of Mexico beaches in a few large nesting events each year to lay their eggs. At the turn of the 20th century, turtle meat and eggs became popular delicacies, causing the turtle’s population to crash. Later, accidental catches in fishing gear kept their population from recovering.
Today, Kemp's ridleys are rebounding due to protections that government, fishing industry, EDF and other conservation groups helped win. These unprecedented actions included protecting Mexico beaches where the turtles nest, monitoring hatchlings at an incubation site, and establishing the headstart program and a second nesting site in Texas. The initial recovery program spanned from 1978-1988. During this time, over 22,000 eggs were transported from Playa de Rancho Nuevo in Mexico to Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. Once hatched, the turtles were exposed to the Padre Island sand and surf, and then captured and transported to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Galveston, Texas, where they were reared in captivity for 9-11 months. This “head-start” program allowed the turtles to grow large enough to be tagged for future recognition and to avoid most natural predators. It was hoped that this exposure would imprint the turtles to the National Seashore so they would return year after year to nest at adulthood. Read More »
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nesting season is here again, and I'm happy to report that nest numbers are well on their way to beating last year’s number! While the Kemp's ridleys have the lowest population of all sea turtles, they have begun a huge come back in recent years.
Until half a century ago, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridleys would surge onto Mexico’s Gulf of Mexico beaches in a few large nesting events each year to lay their eggs. At the turn of the 20th century, turtle meat and eggs became popular delicacies, causing the turtle’s population to crash. Later, accidental catches in fishing gears kept their population down. Read more about the turtle’s history and steps taken in recent years to help the Kemps ridleys population recover.
Today, Kemp's ridleys are rebounding due in part to protections that government, fishing industry and EDF and other conservation groups helped win. In Mexico, the numbers are up from 700 in 1985 to more than 12,000 nests in 2010. In Texas, the nests have climbed from 1 in 1978 to a high of 197 in 2009 due to extraordinary steps taken to establish a secondary nesting site at Padre Island National Seashore.
This year’s total already stands at 85 nests (in just eighteen days of recording findings) and is on track to surpass last year’s number. Check back at the end of the summer for an update! At this time, it is hard to know what impacts the BP oil disaster may have had on the population. Kemp’s ridleys don't return to nest until after the age of seven years old, so the fate of last year’s hatchlings will remain unknown for several years.
We recently released a new video highlighting the results of our Gulf of Mexico Longline Gear Conversion Program, in which we helped nearly 50 boats convert to more environmentally friendly fishing gear in West Florida.
We launched the Longline Gear Conversion Program last year in response to regulations that shut down longline fishing, after the government found that the gear was “interacting” with too many sea turtles. The ban on this widely-used type of gear was devastating for many communities in West Florida.
Environmental Defense Fund believed there was a better way to keep fishermen on the water and sea turtles safe. Our program paid up to 50% of the costs for fishermen to covert to gear that was better for sea turtles and kept fishermen on the water. Many fishermen told us they wouldn’t have been able to make the gear change without our help.
This type of win-win solution is what EDF does best.
The 2010 BP oil disaster demonstrates that initiatives like this one, which help fishing communities and the environment, are more important than ever.
Earlier this summer I reported on the revival of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the smallest of all the sea turtles, which I’m happy to report has now had another record breaking nesting year! 197 nests have been spotted along the Texas coast and more could still be discovered, though August typically marks the end of the turtles’ nesting season. In 2001 fewer than ten turtles were found on the Texas Coast, but in part due to protections that government, industry and EDF and other conservation groups helped win for the turtles, this year marks the sixth year in a row of increased nestings.
A similar trend for this turtle has also been reported south of the border. In the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, nestings back in 1985 numbered as few as 700 (down from 40,000). Through Mexican efforts to protect the nesting sites, there are now upwards of 20,000 annually.
Check out a recent news story on how many interests came together to make this recovery a reality and stay tuned for next season!
Gulf of Mexico fisheries regulators recently closed down longline fishing (7-9 mile fishing lines with hundreds of hooks) in the Gulf of Mexico off west Florida for six months because the government reported that more threatened sea turtles were being caught than expected. The result of the closure is that turtles will be saved, but jobs will be lost.
On top of this six month closure, the Gulf Council will make a decision later this week on additional measures the longline fishermen will have to take to avoid interacting with sea turtles. Again, the good news is that turtles will be saved and the bad news is that jobs will be lost.
In the midst of all this, our very own Dave McKinney came up with a solution to save turtles and jobs. We’ve started a grant program that provides financial assistance to longline fishermen who convert to vertical gear, which causes far fewer turtle interactions. We have already received almost 30 applications and the new gear has already been put on more than five vessels.
As a result, turtles are safer, fishermen have jobs and we’re thrilled because financially stable fisheries are important for achieving our conservation goals. Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have agreed and have given us kudos for finding the ways that work.