Posted by Sea Turtle Restoration Project Staff on June 6th, 2013
Last week Friday, 26-year old Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval was kidnapped and killed while on a routine patrol to protect leatherback sea turtle eggs from local poachers. Sandoval, along with three young women from the United States and another from Spain were kidnapped by five masked men carrying rifles as they inspected leatherback nesting sites on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast.
The five conservation workers were taken to an abandoned home where Mora was separated from the women. The next morning his body was found on Moín beach, bound and beaten. According to the latest news from Costa Rica’s English language Tico Times, Mora died from head trauma and asphyxiation from sand.
Mora worked for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network(WIDECAST) at Moín, a beach near the town of Limon, monitoring the beach for leatherback sea turtles. The turtle eggs are thought to be an aphrodisiac and poachers can steal as many as 200 eggs in a night where they are then sold at local bars for about $1 each. Nest monitoring patrols and public awareness campaigns conducted by groups like WIDECAST have proven effective in reducing egg poaching and usually the mere presence of observers on beaches is often enough to scare off poachers.
But in the past year poachers on the Caribbean coast have posed a greater threat.
Just last month, Mora posted on his Facebook page that he had placed a call for help to authorities after a night of poaching raids, writing: “Send messages to the police so they come to Moín beach … Tell them not to be afraid but to come armed… 60 turtles lost and there wasn’t even a single nest… we need help and fast.”
In April of last year, similar threatening encounters occurred as a group of turtle defenders who were monitoring nests were ambushed and tied up by masked men who stole a large clutch of eggs. After that, Mora and the director of WIDECAST, Vanessa Lizano, were sometimes followed by men on motorbikes carrying AK-47s. “He was held up at gunpoint, and they told him to back off and stop the walks,” Lizano told the Tico Times. “That was his first warning, and I guess his last.”
Tragic happenings like this will unfortunately also bring tragic consequences for the environment and the organizations working for its protection. Because most hands-on sea turtle conservation projects are run by non-governmental organizations, they are dependent on tourist volunteers to help conduct beach surveillance. The murder of a local conservationist and the kidnapping of international tourists is already impacting that work. Patrols at the site have been shut down and ecotourists and volunteers have cancelled upcoming reservations.
Costa Rica, has built its reputation as a mecca for ecotourism, as a nation committed to the protection of the environment, and as a safe place for tourists to visit. Tourism is one of the major drivers of Costa Rica’s economy, attracting around 2 million visitors a year, and revenues of approximately $2 billion, more than the value of the export of coffee and bananas combined. The sea turtle conservation model is critical to protecting nesting beaches and for the sake of the ecology and economy of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican government must bring the murderers to justice assuring everyone that Costa Rica beaches are safe for sea turtles and people.
So far Costa Rican authorities have pledged to find Mora’s murderers. Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro says the government is considering making Moín Beach a protected area. “We will be using the proposal submitted by WIDECAST in order to formulate a plan for the creation of a protected area where Jairo worked,” Castro said.
We at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project have organized a coalition of organizations who are contributing to a REWARD FUND for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers. The Justice for Jairo Reward Fund is expected to grow as more organizations and individuals learn about this heinous crime and want to help. Individuals can contribute to the reward fund at www.SeaTurtles.org/Donateforjustice
Several petitions, which together already have gathered more than 10,000 signatures in the past few days, are aimed at Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, calling for swift and decisive action to bring the perpetrators to justice. You can sign the petitions here.
When I was just three years old, my mother took me to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. When I came across the large saltwater tank I became completely enamored with the giant sea turtle gliding through the water. The only way Mom could get me away from the tank without kicking and screaming was to buy me a toy turtle from the gift shop. I fell in love with turtles that day, and since then this love has only grown. It is my love of turtles that brings me here to TIRN. While all of my friends were deciding what financial internships they wanted to do or which university they wanted to do clinical research at, I went to Google and simply searched “sea turtle internships.” Seaturtles.org was one of the first websites to come up. Whether it’s fate or just dumb luck, I’m not sure. But I do know that I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to come out here to the San Francisco area to learn more about conservation, sea turtles, and the non-profit sector. In just three days I have already learned more about sea turtles than I have in the past twenty years. Not only have I learned about them, but I’ve even begun to create school curriculum to teach children about the Leatherback Sea Turtle, the newly declared marine reptile of California. Not only do I get to help create this curriculum, but I am also working on the Leatherback Watch Program, which enlists the help of volunteers to document when and where Leatherbacks are being sighted off the coast. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to help sea turtles in this way. When I started looking into turtle internships I was concerned that nobody would want me because I’m not a Biology major. But here I get to save sea turtles by using the skills I’ve developed through my Communication Studies major at Vanderbilt. Talk about my dream job! Coming all the way to California to work at TIRN was certainly a risk, but one that I’m glad I took. Growing up in Normal, IL (yes, it really is called Normal and no, it really isn’t normal) and attending school in Nashville, TN makes California seem like a foreign country. First of all, I didn’t know what mountains looked like until I looked down on the four-hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco. Second of all, my research tells me there are mountain lions near the office. Thirdly, I have never seen a place that was so sunny, but so cold. These, amongst other things, are what make this internship such an adventure!
Day three of summer in West Marin County and I wake to the sound of songbirds and sunlight peeking in through the window. A modern day Cinderella, I lay still for a second as I watch a deer graze less than 50 feet from the house. The bike ride to work is no less impressive as I follow a winding country road to the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) headquarters. Located on Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the office is surrounded with the redwoods of Northern California and in fact, Lagunitas Creek behind the office, is home to Coho salmon smolt.
Originally from Eastern Washington, I moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. Now a junior majoring in Environmental Studies and International Relations, I knew I wanted a summer experience engaged in both fields. Here at Sea Turtle Restoration Project, I found just that. Working under the guidance of biologists, outreach coordinators, and other experienced non-profit staff, I tackle local and international legislation enforcing laws to protect these creatures from countless threats like plastic bags or fisheries. Additionally, future work will focus on developing educational resources for local schools to implement into their curriculum.
Recently STRP partnered with local middle school students providing me with the opportunity to teach them field work methodology in creating their own Marine Debris Action Team project. Because sea turtles and other wildlife mistake smaller particles for food or become entangled in larger pieces of litter, plastic debris is one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems. Long-term data collection could supply us with a better understanding of local ‘hotspots’ where greater amounts of debris are present. Such patterns could potentially help us focus our efforts to create the biggest impact possible. What’s more is that, any beach cleanups like this also help improve overall water quality for Pacific Leatherbacks that feed on jellyfish found off the West Coast.
While this summer has just begun, there is no doubt in my mind that it will continue to be a spectacular learning experience, putting my academic knowledge to work and strengthening my professional background. Surrounded by vivid greenery and hardworking people, my summer holds plenty of potential and I see it unfolding into a wonderful adventure.
Kari Gehrke with female Green nesting turtle going back to the ocean.
This summer I was able to go to Costa Rica and work with Green sea turtles in Tortuguero. Also while I was there I was able to do my own research on if plastics found on the beach had any affect on sea turtle nesting. I was there for three months and had an amazing time. I loved working with the turtles and being able to go to a different country.
After I got back form Costa Rica I wanted to look for what might be my next step into doing what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I looked around my area and was only able to find one organization that worked with sea turtles. That is what made me start my internship at seaturtles.org.
I am a senior in college and about to graduate. I want to work with sea turtles as my main job and I want to work with them in the water. I’m not to sure what I exactly want to do so far but I do know that I want to work with them in the water. My next move after college is to take a year off of going to school and get more field work in working with sea turtles. After this I also plan on starting my PhD work at a school that has a sea turtle graduate program. I hope this all works out for me and I am excited to get it done.
Teal showing some turtle love at SailFest 2012! Photo: Kristyn Jensen.
People always ask me, why sea turtles? What makes you love them so much? And despite the fact that they have outlived the dinosaurs, are an important keystone species for our ecosystem, are greatly endangered, and amazingly cute, there is something deep in me that knows that they are my love. After having experience in eighth grade in Baja, Mexico tagging turtles in the Sea of Cortez, and then spending four years studying biology, I guess you could say I have found my passion.
But after graduating, we are all faced with the question of what do we do now? It took me a little while to remember this dream of mine from the eighth grade to go into sea turtle conservation, and even still I was held back by not knowing how to get into this world of sea turtle advocacy… Until I found the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. After writing to them expressing how much I loved sea turtles, and that I would move across the state to come work with this group, they offered me the opportunity to come work for them here in Marin County, and I have been so happy with it.
Even though I have only been here a month, I have already experienced and learned so much about what it takes to run a non-profit, and it has opened my mind to how much there really is to learn and do to protect sea turtles! I feel like I have actually gotten to make a difference, whether it is responding to school kids letters, or researching scientific articles on Hawaiian turtles, or helping to create policy that could change the whole system of how fishing industries work, it has been so rewarding. I recommend anyone looking to jump-start their career in sea turtle biology, or just someone with a great passion for learning more about non-profits. Plus, the staff is super friendly and accommodating, which is really great to have such great support behind all of these projects.
A beautiful hawksbill swimming along a coral reef inspires action to protect pristine ocean habitats! Photo: (C)Doug Perrine/SeaPics.com
This summer I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in their northern California headquarters office. Walking into work the first day was nerve-racking, but this anxiousness quickly dissipated after I met the friendly staff members and with the realization of all the good that this small organization was doing for sea turtles worldwide. And I cannot wait to be a part of it.
I was born and bred in the bustling of the northeast (about 45 minutes south of New York), and I have constantly been surrounded by friends and family in the business industry. As an undergrad student in Pennsylvania, I was the exception, majoring in environmental studies, as opposed to finance, accounting, and economics. In fact, there were less than 10 environmental studies majors in my graduating class of about 1200! It makes me smile to think about the road that I have taken. The fact is that we really can make a difference, but we need far more people to get on board.
Following my desire to pursue a career in conservation of marine life, I moved to Miami to attend the University of Miami and work towards a master's of science in Marine Affairs & Policy. Surrounded by students with different passions ranging from sharks to marine mammals to billfish and beyond, it was here that I found my passion as well: Sea Turtles. Finally, I was not alone!
Although I was encouraged to join the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to fulfill a graduation requirement and pursue my thesis research, this thought is now on the back burner. All I can keep thinking is how I can really make a difference this summer! I will be assisting on a campaign to increase protection efforts within the Pacific, primarily in areas of Oceania and the Cocos Corridor. I also have the opportunity to assist in efforts to protect sea turtles within the Gulf of Mexico, harmed by shrimp trawls. But, what I am most excited about is the community outreach; I will have the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge in person with new friends in California and around the world with blogs like this one, social media updates I will be leading, and exciting new web content I plan to develop. With awareness and empathy, will action be taken; and only with meaningful actions, will sea turtle populations be able to be restored.
Although I have only worked here a few days I feel a lot of pride in the work that I am doing this summer. This summer promises to be full of life-changing experiences in which I will be able to help protect an amazing and mysterious animal, the sea turtle!
My first day on the job as an intern for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project was, to say the least, very unique. Instead of coming into the office, meeting the other staff and doing normal office work I was expecting, I was instead swept straight into the heart of what the Sea Turtle Restoration Project is all about through their BLUEMiND outreach event at the Romberg Tiburon Center. This event consisted of speakers from all different field and backgrounds, ranging as far as from neuroscience to choreography. Despite their differences, everyone in this group of speakers shared the same love and passion for the ocean and the environment and they have each found a call to action within themselves to work to be a part of an organization that makes a difference. They had dedicated their lives to better understanding the oceans and better understanding people in order to connect the two in a harmonious manner which would benefit both the populations of the sea and land.
This caused me to reflect on myself. Originally, I decided to join the Sea Turtle Restoration Project because of my own love for the ocean and my desire to protect marine life against all the threats the animals are facing in today’s world. I wanted to be a part of an organization that would make a tangible difference through bills and lobbying. BLUEMiND helped me realize that making change is so much more than that. Change starts with the people. You cannot simply tell people to do something, such as asking a fisherman not to use a certain type of nets, and expect results. There needs to be a connection between the people and the change you are trying to make, and our job is to find that connection between the people in our community and our cause.
The audience at BLUEMiND was full of people like me who share a love for the ocean, and want to work with us to make the changes to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same beautiful oceans full of marine life that we have today. It is outreach programs such as this which channel their love for the ocean into a powerful tool for change, empowering those people in the audience to do small things to collectively make a larger difference. These small things may be signing a petition for the Leatherback Bill to work towards making the Leatherback Sea Turtle California’s State Marine Reptile, or it may be choosing paper bags instead of plastic next time they are at the grocery store. The BLUEMiND event showed me how people can easily be empowered to turn their love for something into an action. It is our job to find this connection between the people we encounter and our cause to continue to create changes through our outreach program. Because of this, I am now more than ever looking forward to a summer working for as worthy a cause as the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, and I am excited to see the outreach continue to touch the lives of people and inspire change for the better.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on March 28th, 2012
If you have ever wanted to
explore the ocean and see all its beautiful creatures from a submarine, then come on a dive with us on an expedition into the Grand Canyons of the
Our friends at Greenpeace have developed a new Submarine Adventure
that uses links embedded in YouTube videos to put you in the pilot seat. You'll
learn why we must protect this beautiful ecosystem and you might even discover
a new species. But be sure to watch out for squid attacks!
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on February 22nd, 2012
The Louisiana Legislature will convene in a few days and begin work to handle dozens of pre-filed bills. They will start officially on March 12 and finish no later than June 4. The most important subject before the legislators appears to be retirement with dozens of bills pre-filed in the House and in the Senate! Hopefully, other matters will also receive needed attention, one of them being the repeal of an antiquated 1987 law that cripples Louisiana law enforcement from doing its job in state waters. Statute § 56:57.2 preventing enforcement of the federal Turtle Excluder Device (TED) regulations was passed in a time of anger and lack of understanding by the Louisiana fishing industry and its legislative representatives. TEDs have long since been proven effective to prevent the drowning of sea turtles while shrimp is being caught and is used and enforced in all other coastal states except Louisiana. Statute § 56:57.2 promised that the state would move to enforce the regulations once research demonstrated that TEDs work effectively. That time came long ago. The federal government has been more than patient in this issue as well as neighboring states. Two years ago, House Bill 1334 would have settled the matter, but the Governor was understandably overwhelmed by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and vetoed it.
It's time Governor Jindal leads Louisiana's shrimping industry down the right path which will put him in the good graces of all the people who see him as a great prospect to serve the nation in the future. But how can a governor who ignores a federal law expect to rise from the Louisiana State House to the White House? Even a cabinet position requires people who respect the laws that have been passed by Congress. The Governor's office has received thousands of messages from voters around the country and expert scientists who recognize that the Endangered Species Act is needed to spare sea turtles and thousands of other creatures that deserve protection.
Now is the time, Governor Jindal. We're all waiting!
In 2010, a bill was introduced that would have repealed the long-standing state laws prohibiting the use of state money to enforce the federal TED requirements. However, after receiving overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill was vetoed by Governor Jindal. This year, we hope to see another bill reintroduced and and then approved by the Governor. This is just one strategy to reduce sea turtle deaths where some shrimp trawlers are ignoring national sea turtle protection laws. Together with allies, STRP has challenged the management of the entire shrimp trawl fishery by the federal government in a lawsuit that is still pending, an action provoked by the record number of sea turtle carcasses found on Gulf shores last year.
During a recent visit home to New Orleans for the holidays, I had the opportunity to meet with the Director of the Louisiana Humane Society to discuss their involvement in and support of the initiative to change Louisiana's out-dated statute on TED enforcement. In addition to the Humane Society of the United States, GreenPeace, EarthTrust, and Sea Turtle Conservancy have all joined forces with STRP to demand increased enforcement of federal laws and more responsible, sustainable fishing practices from the Gulf of Mexico shrimping fleet. A previous letter sent from a coalition of concerned scientists quite successfully garnered support for the cause; therefore, if you know of any organizations that may be interested in signing on to this cause, please let us know!
While 2011 was indeed a rough year for sea turtles, it also proved to be a year of successful and productive campaigning. In response to a gruesome assault on sea turtles by shrimpers in March and April we rallied our members through our action alerts and petitions to call for action, and as a result the on-water enforcement of TEDs increased 10-15 times and sea turtle deaths were virtually eliminated in several months. Check the graph below depicting how our combined actions, including e-mails, letters, and phone calls, saved the lives of sea turtles! Now, how can you help?
Take action today! Demand Louisiana's Governor lead the Legislature and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to present a new sustainable seafood management bill this year that would require proper TED compliance and enforcement to ensure the safety the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. Take the time to make a phone call, write a letter or an e-mail, or even pay a personal visit to the individuals you voted in to office to ensure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities to protect our precious coastal resources. Click here for those Louisiana Legislature contacts!
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on December 1st, 2011
Chevron broke ground on its massive and environmentally destructive Wheatstone natural gas plant in Western Australia today, triggering a boycott of the official ceremony by the Australian Aboriginal community for the company's disregard for their interests. Read the story from the West Australian.
When I visited Onslow two years ago, I was shocked by the run-down, dusty, disheveled condition of the town that had experienced previous oil company booms and busts. No economic prosperity in sight, but lots of falling-down oil company signs and clumps of oil on the beach.
Peter Klinger, The West Australian December 1, 2011, 6:27 am
Today's ceremony near Onslow to mark the start of construction of the Chevron-led $29 billion Wheatstone LNG project threatens to be overshadowed by a rift between the US giant and traditional owners. As of last night, disgruntled elders of the Thalanyji people, who hold Native Title rights for the area around Onslow, were threatening to boycott this morning's ceremony at the Wheatstone location, Ashburton North industrial precinct. It would rob the ceremony, which will be attended by senior executives from project partners Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache and Kufpec as well as Premier Colin Barnett, of a traditional welcome to country, which has become a feature of ground-breaking and milestone ceremonies to recognise the importance of traditional owners. Unlike Woodside Petroleum, Chevron has said little about its dealings with traditional owners other than to flag this year that a wide-ranging access and compensation package had been agreed with the Thalanyji. Chevron and partners approved Wheatstone's development two months ago. Despite agreement on appropriate compensation, it is understood the latest row between Chevron and the Thalanyji revolves around a request for the oil and gas giant to fund and build a Keeping Place for cultural materials, as well as a clash over the invitation list for today's first-sod turning ceremony. Some elders were invited but others apparently not, leading to a decision by the Thalanyji leadership to not attend at all unless grievances with Chevron could be resolved by this morning. A Chevron spokesman said it was "disappointed and regrets" that Thalanyji elders were planning not to attend.
Outside magazine profiles the "blue mind" of sea turtle visionary J. Nichols, a TIRN board member. J shares his vision for a new field of research that crosses conservation with neuroscience. He has captivated my mind and those of scientists, researchers, environmentalists, biologists, surfers and even sports magazine writers! This is an inspiring read. I hope that this story and his appearance on the cover of Outside, one of my favorite magazines (yes I subscribe), will take J's message that loving and caring for sea turtles and the oceans is good for you to new heights! Congratulations J! And thank you Outside!
Although the Gulf of Mexico region has been devastated repeatedly by man made disasters ranging from broken levees to oil inundation, we cannot use those tragedies as blinders to ignore the ongoing and flagrant violation of a 25 year old federal law mandating the use of TEDs by shrimp trawlers in the region. Having eaten as much fried shrimp growing up in bayou country as any other self-respecting y’at, I am growing increasingly aware of the unconscionable cost of this delicacy.
With no scientific data supporting the argument that TEDs significantly reduce the amount of shrimp caught by fishermen, there is no base to the argument against them. Though TEDs are a requirement on trawl nets, they are not yet required on the skimmer nets so often used in the Gulf of Mexico, creating yet another loophole for turtle bycatch to slip through.
Deeply rooted in a unique culture, desperately attempting to survive against the odds in a habitat where water represents more than recreation, but rather a way of life, Louisiana fishermen and law makers, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service overseeing regulation enforcement, need to realize that the only means of persistence is to adapt. If I achieve one goal with this internship, I hope that I manage to successfully convey the message to my beloved home state that progress necessitates change, and in this instance, everyone involved, including the commercial fishing industry, stands to benefit from proper use of TEDs.
If we allow this travesty to continue, it may reach a point of no return, a point where mutually cooperative policy no longer remains an option. We cannot allow ourselves to reach a point where the policies needed to protect the five species of endangered and threatened sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico necessitate drastic reductions in the fishing industry that sustains so much of the life and culture of my dearly beloved Cajun Country.
STRP has compiled a list of concerned scientists, fisheries managers, and industry representatives who support the call for action by NMFS. So come on Louisiana, work with me and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to demand that our government agencies enforce the long standing federal law requiring the protection of our ancient, ailing sea turtles with no negative consequences for the shrimp fisheries of the Gulf Coast. C
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on October 28th, 2011
This summer has seen unprecedented success of our Leatherback Watch Program thanks to our growing team of interns, project partners, and citizen scientists contributing to our all-volunteer network monitoring the critically endangered West Pacific leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. Just this week we shared a press release that put the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in the news in several California coast print and online media sources. The sightings information and contributions from our key project partners Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Moss Landing, The Oceanic Society in San Francisco, and Sea Turtles Forever along the Oregon coast, were quoted in the Pacifica Tribune online and print news story. We've teamed up with the Oceanic Society team to invite the general public on three Leatherback Watch Program fundraising expeditions through the Gulf of the Farralones National Marine Sanctuary where a leatherback was spotted on October 2, 2011. STRP members and guests received a discount price and STRP received a portion of the proceeds for these trips (win-win!). The amazing leatherback photos and videos have just been compiled into a video short by our intern Ming Ong and is now available for viewing on the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's YouTube Channel and posted below. Since we have the exact GPS coordinates from each photo and video, these amazing images will soon be hosted in the Ocean Explorer layer of Google Earth!
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on October 24th, 2011
Watching the sun rise over San Francisco's skyline while on my way to the docks to board another offshore expedition to the Farallone Islands in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is always an inspiring moment, and this Sunday was no exception! Our vessel was booked full for an entire day of searching for the rare leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), watching whales, and experiencing all the wildlife diversity in and around these amazing islands. I gave a short talk to our group before departure, sharing facts on the biology and ecology of Pacific leatherbacks and our conservation successes in California and Hawaii. Many of the guests had no idea leatherbacks were present offshore of California and were energized by my talk to see one and help them!
This summer has been very rewarding for our all-volunteer Leatherback Watch Program, which kicked-off with a huge party at the Cal Academy of Sciences on June 16, World Sea Turtle Day, and has tallied over twenty leatherback sightings from Point Sur, California up to British Columbia, Canada this summer and fall. The majority of the leatherbacks seen have been in California's National Marine Sanctuaries, so our expedition to the Farallones was buoyed by high hopes that we would be rewarded with another leatherback sighting.
Within the first half an hour of smooth sailing, I spotted two floating balloons on the surface of the sea, a potentially harmful meal for feeding leatherbacks that might mistake them for jellyfish (which are also round, and float on the surface). Research shows that one-third of all leatherbacks have plastic in their stomachs, and these balloons are a grim reminder why that is true. During the two hour journey out to South Farallone Island, I spotted two more cases of plastic pollution in what is proposed to be critical habitat for the endangered leatherbacks; a mylar and another plastic balloon.
We reached the islands in just under two hours, and immediately spotted a young gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) feeding in shallow water. As the whale meandered, we passed by two shark-diving operators, some marine researchers, and two more wildlife viewing vessels. We spotted the leatherback's favorite food, the brown sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens), in the highest abundance on the leeward side of the south island, but no leatherbacks were seen. We headed offshore to the edge of the continental shelf when an offshore blow directed us to two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding on what appeared in our sonar to be a dense aggregation of krill. These whales were bringing us farther and farther off course, but were thrilling to watch as they repeatedly dove to feed, showing us their flukes on several occasions. Our captain reversed our course and we headed home, passing close to middle rock, and then directly into a pod of Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). Three more balloons littering the Marine Sanctuary surface were spotted, but still no leatherback sea turtles.
Passing under the Golden Gate bridge on our way home, we all felt mixed emotions; sadness that we had not seen a leatherback sea turtle and that our journey was coming to an end, and elation at the amazing marine mammals we had witnessed. New friends and supporters of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project were made during hours of engaging discussions, and many of the guests left with fantastic photos of the humpbacks. We will continue to partner with the Oceanic Society in the San Francisco Bay and beyond, and look forward to joining them again for another expedition on October 29!
Thanks to the activism and connections of a dedicated Australian woman, an Australian news team followed her to the Amazon where she showed them the oily mess left behind by California-based Chevron. The company is now building massive new liquid natural gas plants in the remote Kimberley of Northwest Australia. Why won't the U.S. media make these links? Perhaps they don't want to lose Chevron's advertising?
Posted by Ming Ong, STRP Intern on September 8th, 2011
I was thrilled to learn of the latest victory in the campaign to halt the cruel practice of shark finning. As an intern with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, one of my assignments has been to work to support AB 376, which bans the sale, purchase or possession of shark fins in the state of California. Yesterday, it passed the Senate floor on a bipartisan 25-9 vote, and now goes to the Governor Jerry Brown’s office for a signature. Brown has 12 days from the time it reaches his desk to sign or veto the measure. Since he has not indicated publicly whether he intends to sign the bill or not, I am now focusing my efforts on outreach to his office and encouraging our members to join me.
STRP members sent 817 email messages and made countless phone calls directly to their Senators in support of AB 376. In our office we made many phone calls to Sacramento and sent a hand-written letter to our Senator via overnight mail last week prior to the final vote. It is always encouraging to see this hard work pay off.
The AB 376 bill was supported by many ocean conservation groups, including the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, as a way to help end the cruel practice of shark finning, which is largely the cause of the drastic decline of shark populations worldwide. AB 376 supporters, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Bo Derek, emphasize that our ocean’s apex predators play a crucial role in the health of our ecosystems and are thus, important to conserve and protect. Time Magazine describes the practice of shark finning to be “wasteful, cruel and, most significantly unsustainable for the ocean ecosystems as it threatens to deplete the numbers of these top predators and spoils the natural balance of the seas. According to The Washington Post, activists have begun pushing for shark fin bans across the U.S. in an effort to combat the global shark fin trade, which scientists estimate kills between 26 million and 73 million sharks each year.
Many of those that opposed the bill claimed that it is an attack on Asian culture and cuisine, as shark fins are the key ingredient for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy. But, when one of China’s most famous celebrities, Yao Ming, is also in support of banning shark finning and ending the cultural use of shark fin soup, it is clear that not all Chinese are heartless shark-killers.
There were several key provisions added to the bill during its evolution in Sacramento this summer, including an exemption allowing taxidermists to possess shark fins and letting licensed fishermen donate shark fins to research institutions. Also, a companion bill was introduced and passed that allows for a longer grace period until July 2013 for retailers to sell in-stock shark fins and requires the California Ocean Protection Council to submit a yearly report on any sustainable shark fisheries operating.
California, home to approximately 1.1 million Chinese-Americans, is one of the largest importers of shark fins outside Asia. As quoted in Reuters, state Senator Christine Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat who was one of the bill’s chief proponents, said, “(This bill) addresses an important environmental threat to our oceans’ health. It’s our market here that drives the slaughter.” She further cited in The Huffington Post estimates that 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States come through California, giving the bill an impact beyond efforts to restrict the practice in the U.S. and abroad. This is why I am especially excited that the state may soon join Washington, Oregon and Hawaii by passing this ban on shark fins. Passing this strict law banning the possession of shark fins, will put an end to the legal shark fin trade in California. Hopefully we can use California as an example to ban shark finning in international waters. In January, President Obama signed federal legislation tightening an 11-year-old ban on shark finning in U.S. waters. While that law prohibits finning, it does not prohibit the possession and sale of shark fins, like the new California law would.
This shark fin ban is representative of the passion and collaboration of diverse individuals that can come together around a unified goal. Unwavering determination and grassroots outreach by organizations such as ours and the local non-profit Sea Stewards helped gain momentum and enormous support of those who wanted to put an end to the inhumane practice of shark finning. We can now celebrate another victory for sharks and a victory for everyone who helped make this ban come to life. Just one more signature is needed from Governor Brown before the true celebration begins!
August 15, 2011 was Shark Day at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, California. Representing the Turtle Island Restoration Network as a new intern, I joined supporters of the bill to ban the practice of shark finning, AB 376. We gathered outside the Capitol, with a big blow-up shark, tents filled with organizations in favor of the ban, and posters with shark statistics to raise awareness about sharks and to show our support for AB 376. This bill would make it unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin in the state of California. Click here to learn more and take action in support of AB 376!
Sharks around the world are in grave danger, and the practice of shark finning is causing the decimation of shark populations. Shark finning involves hacking off the fins of live sharks, then leaving the crippled bodies to die in the ocean. This gruesome practice is often combined with longline fishing, which is largely contributing to the major decline in many sea turtle and shark species.
According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, some 30 percent of shark species are threatened or nearly threatened with extinction, and up to 73 million sharks are killed each year. Sharks are apex predators and their demise has a cascading effect on other marine species. Their fate is of particular importance as sharks play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem. A scientific study showed that when 11 species of sharks were nearly eliminated, 12 of the 14 prey species those sharks once fed on became so plentiful that they damaged the ecosystem, including wiping out the species farther down the food chain.
California is a large part of this unsustainable practice of shark finning, serving as the main entry point for shark fin distribution in the US. By passing AB 376, California would strengthen the U.S. West Coast bans against shark fin trade by enacting the strongest of the regional shark fin laws, a significant step towards reducing pressure on rapidly declining shark populations.
When I entered the crowded room of the hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, co-authors Huffman and Fong were in the process of introducing the bill to the Appropriations committee. They were followed by three witnesses, including actress Bo Derek.
“Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, and yet many stocks may be wiped out in a single human generation due to the increasing demand for shark fins,” Bo Derek told the Senate Appropriations Committee. Derek, who is a U.S. secretary of state special envoy opposing wildlife trafficking, highlighted the importance for California to pass this ban as 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States come through California, a total of at least 30 tons of dried fins annually. According to ABC News, the actress called the process, which may sell for up to $400 per pound, “deplorable."
Once the witnesses were heard, supporters of the ban, including myself on behalf of TIRN, were given the opportunity to introduce themselves at the microphone and state that they support the ban. We filtered through after one another and the diversity of the individuals and organizations was inspiring. Some individuals made a point to ask for the ban to pass with no amendments, others were cut off for expanding on their thoughts.
When I turned away from the podium, I paused for a moment and scanned the room. Lined up behind me was an unending row of supporters for AB 376 who had each added some flair to their outfits with shark costumes, stickers, or shark backpacks. Meanwhile, the opposition, who were seated in the center of the room, was largely represented by an older generation of Chinese restaurant owners. Knowing that individuals were traveling from all along the California coast to show their support for the ban, I was honored to be part of this historic day.
I was pleased to represent not only the majority of the Californian population, but also a large proportion of the Asian-American population that are in favor of the ban. Like others who have shown their support for the ban, I believe that I have to do my part as I not only know that it is extremely unsustainable, but is also entirely inhumane. Support from not only celebrities, but everyday members of the society are what helps put an end to practices such as shark finning.
My time as an STRP intern has made me realize that there is so much to be done regarding conservation. I knew I wanted to be involved in this field before coming here, but being in the midst of such an influential organization made me realize that this is really the kind of work I want to be doing with my life. STRP made me realize that every person can make a difference.
The event that that spoke to me the most during my time here was the Chevron Annual Shareholders Meeting. This event attracted people from all over the world, and it made me more aware of how a lot of issues really are universal problems that need to be addressed. At this event, I participated with other volunteers to protect endangered flatback sea turtles by protesting the proposed oil drilling off the Kimberly, the Western coast of Austrailia.
Another event that I was very interested in was the World Ocean’s Day event held in San Francisco. In this event, I tabled with another intern to provide information about STRP, and help get signatures for our petitions.
I was very proud when and two other interns and I were able to build a small scale replica of a shrimp trawl net with a turtle excluder device for Cal Academy Nightlife. The Event was for World Sea Turtle Day, and it meant a lot to know that something I helped to make would be used to educate the public.
I am extremely grateful towards my supervisor and the other people in the STRP office for making me feel welcomed and mentoring me in my first interning position.
Overall, interning with STRP has been an experience I won’t soon forget. This experience has definitely solidified my passion for helping all marine creatures!
Dow Jones reported this afternoon that California-based Chevron is appealing the weak environmental conditions imposed by the compliant environmental authority in Western Australia on its massive Wheatstone LNG mega-project. Seems that big, bad Chevron can't even meet the lowest environmental bar without kicking and screaming. Read the story.
The project is getting green-lighted all the way even though it is being built on top of sea turtle and whale habitat, not to mention destroying dugong habitat, polluting the air, and trouncing on small coastal communities that are already suffering from years of oil company abuse.
I guess since Chevron didn't have to do diddly-squat to protect anything at the nearby Barrow Island nature reserve where it is squatting its Gorgon project, why should it have to lift a finger onshore?
What's even worse is that no reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area or the U.S. for that matter will cover Chevron's mid-deeds and bullying in Australia, not to mention the company's involvement in human rights abuses in the U.S., Nigeria, Ecudor, Angola, Burma, and dozens of other countries.
When I was in elementary school I absolutely loved visiting aquariums, learning about the different kinds of fish and snorkeling in the ocean. Even at that age I hoped that someday I would make a difference working with the oceans in some way. This past January I finally made this dream a reality and began my internship with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project as a part of a cooperative education program through Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Looking back over the past six months I have been fortunate enough to participate in a handful of intriguing and inspiring campaigns. From the very beginning I was very passionate about contributing to STRP’s Bag the Plastics campaign. As a part of this campaign, I was heavily involved in sending out letters of support for plastic bag bans in cities across California, I wrote a short article about plastic for STRP’s Viva La Tortuga newsletter, and I made three short videos about plastics and sea turtles for STRP’s YouTube channel. Ultimately, the most rewarding effort I put into the Bag the Plastics campaign—and the most memorable time spent with STRP—was attending the 31st International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS) in San Diego and presenting a poster I put together about plastic bag ban advocacy. Attending this symposium was the greatest experience I could have asked for: I was able to connect with individuals from all over the world and expand my limited knowledge of sea turtle biology and conservation efforts happening around the globe—all while spreading the word of plastic’s harmfulness to sea turtles to those who were unaware.
I was also involved in a few other projects, such as the distribution and promotion of STRP’s newest documentary The Heartbreak Turtle Today, communicating with ocean supporters through social networking, creating and uploading posts about sea turtle conservation to Google Oceans, creating short videos for the STRP YouTube channel, initiating contact with members of our Leatherback Watch Program, and tabling at several events including the March 29th screening of The Heartbreak Turtle Today, ISTS from April 11th through 15th, and World Sea Turtle Day at Cal Academy’s Nightlife on June 16th. Another memorable event was the Chevron annual shareholder’s meeting rally where myself and other sea turtle supporters donned large sea turtle costumes and protested on behalf of the Australian flatback sea turtles along the Kimberley Coast in Western Australia.
In the end I am so glad that I made the decision to intern with STRP, and I am exceptionally grateful for all the guidance, support, and mentoring received from my dedicated supervisor and colleagues. I will never forget my time spent with STRP, and for the rest of my life I will be dedicated to marine conservation wherever I am!
The Cal Academy of Science was packed on Thursday night with an
estimated 2,400 people who came to celebrate sea turtles on World Sea
Turtle Day. They came to enjoy demonstrations, interactive exhibits and
an amazing show using the Planetarium’s dome showing how these gentle
and endangered creatures migrate thousands of miles across the vast
ocean as they travel from their nesting beaches to faraway foraging
grounds. The evening won’t soon be forgotten, it was pure blue magic.
Staff & volunteers from The Sea Turtle Restoration Project,
SPAWN, and Got Mercury.org, along with supporters from Sea Stewards and
The Center for Biological Diversity transformed African Hall into a
teaching hospital about everything from ‘what does a turtle egg look
like’ to international threats such as commercial fisheries, poaching
and big oil interests. On the central piazza stage was a model of a TED
(Turtle Extruder Device) required by Federal Law to be installed on
commercial shrimping boats to give sea turtles an escape hatch from
their nets to avoid drowning. It was clear that many were surprised to
learn about the consequences to marine life caused by their appetite for
seafood, especially shrimp.
Scott Benson from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science
Center’s leatherback turtle program took us on a grand tour across the
Pacific using the biggest computer monitor at the Cal Academy of Science
– the planetarium’s dome itself - to demonstrate the incomprehensibly
large distances covered by these turtles as they migrate from Indonesia
& Papua New Guinea to Northern California, Oregon & Washington
in search of their favorite eats, the Brown Sea Nettle. Little did the
audience know that just 20 minutes before the show, there had been a
malfunction in the dome. No problema, the CAS geniuses crossed a few
wires and fixed it in plenty of time for the World Turtle Day
About 25 people gathered on a dirt track north of Broome to stop Woodside contractors from accessing the site at James Price Point.
They set up banners early this morning and one protester called Shaun chained himself to a bulldozer.
He agreed to free himself in exchange for seeing a document giving Woodside permission to clear the land.
Another man has since chained himself to the bulldozer and protester Dave Mann says they are holding their ground.
"We don't want to see them do their business so we're here to make it difficult for them," he said.
Inspector Geoff Stewart says while the police respect the protesters' right to have their say, it is illegal to block traffic.
"Certainly people can't impede the vehicles, even by standing or by vehicles, and we're just negotiating with them to move," he said.
A convoy, including the bulldozer, several cars and a truck, was prevented from accessing the site.
Organiser Will Thomas says even though the police will try to move them on, the protesters will not let the Woodside convoy through today.
The blockades come as the Australian Heritage Council officially recommends 20 million hectares of the West Kimberley be declared a national heritage site.
In its final report to the Government, the Australian Heritage Council has expanded the recommended boundary to include the gas hub site.
The Wilderness Society's Peter Robertson says the new report contradicts the State Government's claims that the area is not significant.
"The Government's proposal pretty much dismissed the significance of the dinosaur footprints, especially in the James Price Point area," he said.
"This report and these recommendations contradict that dismissive appraisal and it will definitely force the federal minister to focus his mind much more clearly on the significance of that coastal environment."
Mr Robertson says the inclusion of the site will create problems for supporters of the development.
"It will certainly make it more difficult for the federal government to approve it and it will also make it more difficult for the joint venture partners like Woodside to argue what they are doing is environmentally responsible," he said.
In a statement, Woodside said the site was preferred over others because the WA Environmental Protection Authority recommended that heritage and environment issues at James Price Point could be managed.
It also said that any sites of heritage value at the precinct will be managed in accordance with the conditions of the environmental and heritage approvals the project requires to proceed.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on April 24th, 2011
Almost six weeks after releasing an adult male Pacific green turtle, captured at Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica, the turtle, equipped with a satellite transmitter, has traveled 1,062 miles NE (1,709 km) and is currently offshore of El Salvador.
The second adult male we have satellite tagged at Cocos, “Yuri,” also headed east toward the Central American coast, then south, traveling all the way to the coast of Panama before we lost transmission. See his old tracks at the C-MAR Project page.
All of the other tagged turtles, most of them sub-adults, are seen in and around Cocos, including Adrienne who was also tagged last month and is still transmitting! She preferred to stay around Cocos, indicating the importance of Cocos Island National Park as a foraging area for young turtles where they can grow to maturity before migrating to their nesting grounds. We don’t yet know where that is—the Central American coast or the Galapagos Islands, or ???. Stay tuned.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 23rd, 2011
Dr. Joe Flanagan, senior veterinarian at the Houston Zoo, had a call Tuesday from the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Houston SPCA. Someone had brought in a small Kemp's ridley sea turtle that had been found crossing a street in Northeast Houston. It had a hook in its mouth and x-rays showed it had pneumonia. Dr. Flanagan removed the hook, treated the turtle's pneumonia and took it to the National Marine Fisheries Service sea turtle facility in Galveston. One lucky turtle! The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been notified of this illegal capture of an endangered sea turtle.
The Kemp's ridley is endangered and should never be taken home as a souvenir from a fishing trip.
Ocean conservationist David Helvarg posted this timely and insightful piece on the Huffington Post today.
The National Ocean Policy Coalition has one aim -- to undermine America's National Ocean Policy. Why am I not surprised?
by David Helvarg
In 1994 I wrote a book called, The War Against the Greens, about how industries created anti-environmental front groups and nurtured a 'Wise Use' movement that, along with traditional rallies and protests used threats, intimidation and violence to achieve its ends. These ends were mostly to promote the agenda of their extractive industry backers and protect federal subsidies for mining, logging and cattle companies operating on public lands. With support from Western politicians like Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming and Senator Larry Craig of Idaho they managed, among other things, to keep the Clinton administration from following through on its early pledge to reform public lands management. Another corporate strategy was known as greenwashing, giving an environmental spin to environmentally destructive practices, taking credit for restoration work that the industry was forced to do as a result of lawsuits and regulations they'd fought against or creating green sounding front groups. Some industry folks I talked to were quite proud of the names they'd come up with like the Alliance for Environment and Resources (a pro-logging group run out of a Forestry Association office), the Greening Earth Society (a coal and utility backed group claiming increased carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is good for plant growth and so could solve the problem of world hunger) and the National Wetlands Coalition, put together by contractors and developers opposed to Clean Water Act provisions that protect wetlands. Which brings us to today's National Ocean Policy Coalition. In the wake of last summer's BP blowout disaster in the Gulf, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the nation's first National Ocean Policy to try and coordinate competing uses of our public seas in ways that will assure their continued health. The oil industry, which has generated a trillion dollars in offshore revenues since 1946, was not pleased. They formed the National Ocean Policy Coalition with the aim of promoting, "a sound, balanced ocean policy that... enhances commercial and recreational activities, such as oil and gas development," in other words, business as usual. NOPC's membership includes the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, U.S. Oil & Gas Association, National Ocean Industries Association (offshore oil & gas) and Consumer Energy Alliance, an outfit formed by a D.C. lobbyist to fight against climate regulation. Among a handful of non-oil members is a sport fishing industry trade association that is leading the fight against the establishment of wilderness parks in the sea (known as Marine Protected Areas) where neither fishing nor drilling are allowed. Just as the mining and timber industries in the West looked to use cowboy ranchers to front their Wise Use agenda in the 1990s, the oil industry is hoping to mobilize recreational fishermen as the visible face of opposition to public planning on our public seas. Despite pushback from some outdoor writers and conservation-oriented sportfishing groups they've had some success. Towards the end of the public hearings process that led to the new ocean policy an article appeared in ESPN Outdoors.com claiming the President was about to ban recreational fishing in large parts of the ocean. The story quickly went viral and was touted by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others on the right. Signs started showing up at Tea Party rallies reading, "Obama, get your hands off my fishing pole." In its final report the President's Ocean Policy Taskforce included language specifically reassuring recreational fishermen and women that they were an important element of the ocean stakeholder community and no one was out to take their poles away. A little background might help: In 2003 and 2004 two blue ribbon ocean panels (a federal one appointed by President Bush, another led by now-CIA chief Leon Panetta) put out reports both stating that the ecological decline of U.S. waters posed a threat to our economy, security and environment and recommending better coordination and oversight of America's blue frontier. U.S. federal waters are presently run by 24 different agencies operating under 140 laws with little or no coordination among them. The result has been decades of overfishing, pollution, sprawl, oil spills and beach closures. In 2009 President Obama established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to review the recommendations of the two commissions and examine new and changed realities. There followed a long process of public hearings by the taskforce attended by thousands of citizen stakeholders who were in the great majority supportive of their effort. The ocean policy's operating principle, now incorporated into the President's executive order, is called ecosystem-based coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP). The CMSP idea is to take a more unified and mapped out approach to ocean management. Ultimately, if done correctly, it could involve cleaning up our coastal watersheds, greening our ports and designating offshore waters not only for shipping but also energy, fishing, national defense, wildlife and wilderness in a dynamic and regionally responsive manner (Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California have taken the lead). For the oil industry, having to operate on a level playing field is not an attractive option however. One of their key allies on Capitol Hill, House Natural Resources Committee Chair "Doc" Hastings (R. WA) doesn't even pretend to want to work with the new ocean policy, calling the president's approach "irrational zoning" and pushing bills through the House to speed up offshore oil and gas permitting in federal waters. Not surprisingly the oil & gas industry was his largest campaign contributor last year. Our public seas deserve better. They deserve well-coordinated management from all levels of government: federal, state, local and tribal to try and resolve user conflicts rather than simply respond to the demands of a single powerful industry lobby. Hopefully, despite big oil's "bluewashing," efforts citizens who work on, live by or enjoy the ocean will begin to engage more actively in determining its future and work for good ocean policies and practices that can help assure healthy waters and coastal communities from Maine to Hawaii and from sea to shining sea. Link to Huffington Post.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on April 17th, 2011
I was invited to participate on a panel called “Finding Common Ground in Fisheries Management” at the International Sea Turtle Symposium this week, and I entitled my opening statement,
“TECHNO-FIXES ALONE WON’T SOLVE BYCATCH ISSUES ON AN OVERFISHED PLANET: Finding ‘Common Ground’ Requires Everyone Accepting Their Role in the Problem
Here is part of what I had to say…
For fisheries, sea turtles are the “canary in the coal mine” that we ignore at our own peril. In order to find common ground (between fishers and the environmental community) all of us must recognize and accept our individual and collective role in the problem. In my experience, the fishing industry often fails to accept, and the general public is generally unaware of the following well-established facts:
A. Overfishing by humans is one of the fundamental causes of the decline of marine species;
B. Global fish stocks are in major decline and current levels of global fisheries are not sustainable.
C. There are “too many vessels chasing too few fish.” The lost economic benefit to fishers (and society) caused by overfishing (calculated for yr. 2004 by the World Bank) was estimated at ~$50 billion.
Solutions to bycatch reduction must seek to secure healthy marine ecosystems. In addition to using all the best available bycatch reduction “devices,” the solutions must include: (1) significant reduction of global fishing effort; (2) no-fishing marine preserves; (3) time-area closures; (4) banning the use of the most destructive fishing technology; and (5) adequate enforcement.
The one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill is drawing close and we are still learning the deadly impacts to sea turtles from the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Today, at the International Sea Turtle Society's annual meeting I presented on my experiences being kept "out of the box" while on a mission to save sea turtles and I learned some startling new facts about the oil impacts just released at the conference.
At least two critically endangered leatherback sea turtles were spotted in the oil slicks! During our negotiations with the U.S. Coast Guard following our successful legal action June 30, 2010 I specifically advised the rescue unit that they must have the ability to rescue an adult leatherback weighing 800 pounds or more. The technology exists, BP must pay to use it for the benefit of the leatherback.
This year and many more to come will tell the true tale of the deadly impacts from the BP oil spill to our endangered sea turtle populations. Knowing the chronic, long-term effects from oil exposure can cause cancer before death, it could be a long and painful road for the Gulf sea turtles who still forage in oily sands left by BP.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project on April 7th, 2011
The Kemp's ridley nesting season has begun all along the Texas coast. The first ridley nest in Mexico was found on March 30 and nestings usually begin in Texas two to three weeks later. The patrol teams along the Upper Texas Coast have started looking for telltale tracks indicating a sea turtle has left the water looking for a suitable place to lay eggs.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has sent a detailed news release on what to do if a sea turtle is seen on the beach. The public is encouraged to immediately call 1-866-TURTLE-5. This toll-free number sponsored by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project is answered by federal and state agencies that will provide information or try to reach the site.
"The steady increase in the turtles' nesting success is in large part due to the ongoing efforts by members of the public to protect them," said Benjamin N. Tuggle, Ph.D., the Service's Southwest Regional Director. "This is the kind of cooperative effort that will eventually lead to success in saving these sea turtles as well as other imperiled species."
In addition, the public is asked to drive slowly and look out for sea turtles as they sometimes blend with the sand. If a camera is handy, photos are always welcome should the turtle finish the nest and returns to the water before a federal or state official arrives.
This year will be different for all those who patrol the beaches or follow the news about the Kemp's ridleys. Many of those that laid eggs on the Texas coast last spring migrated to the east only to find water covered with oil, beaches ruined by sludge and perhaps contaminated food such as shrimp and crabs. Between April 20 and July 15, millions of gallons of oil poured from the BP well followed by over flights dropping dispersants that might also be deadly.
What will be the effect on Kemp's ridley sea turtles that nested in Texas? One such turtle is named Kathy and was discovered on May 19 last year at Surfside Beach, west of Galveston. She left 102 eggs which were excavated by biologists from Texas A&M University at Galveston and moved to the Padre Island National Seashore for incubation. The movement of the eggs is necessary because there is no incubation facility or corral in Galveston.
Kathy was outfitted with a satellite transmitter as part of a study assessing the impact of Hurricane Ike on sea turtle nesting activity on the upper Texas coast. She was released at Stewart Beach on Galveston Island on the same day. Kathy has been named in honor of Katherine McGovern, President of the John P. McGovern Foundation, who donated funds enabling the 2010 nesting patrols.
But, will we see Kathy again? Maybe so. On April 4, her satellite transmitter indicated she was near southeast Louisiana, hopefully on her way back to Surfside to leave another nest of eggs.
Another 2010 Kemp's ridley nester named Karen was tracked to waters west of Florida but her transmitter is no longer sending a signal. She had migrated along the Gulf Coast when the BP well was spewing our millions of gallons of oil, maybe into her path. We hope the lack of a signal from Karen's transmitter is because it simply quit working but we won't know unless she returns to the Texas coast. She was named for the late Karen Stockton who educated thousands in the Houston area through her songs about sea turtles and nature. It's sea turtle nesting time again, but this year, let's watch for Kathy and hope for Karen to return to the Upper Texas Coast.
Turtle Island Restoration Network has joined the international call to spare the captive-bred green sea turtles that are being held at the University of British Columbia for research purposes. While these seven sea turtles are not part of the wild population and will not make a difference to the survival of the species, the university should do all it can to ensure that they live out their lives in the best way possible.
Our wish is that people around the world would be as outraged about the plan to kill these poor sea turtles as for the tens of thousands of wild sea turtles killed in the U.S. every year in fisheries for shrimp, swordfish and tuna! By not eating this fish and telling others about the harm, people can make a real difference in protecting sea turtles from extinction!
Office of the President The University of British Columbia 6328 Memorial Road Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2 Canada
Dear UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Stephen J. Toope:
Turtle Island Restoration Network is writing to urge you to immediately cease invasive experimentation on the seven remaining endangered green sea turtles housed at the University of British Columbia and to allow for a team of independent veterinarians to assess the health of the turtles to determine if the animals can be placed in a sanctuary or other protective facility. If an assessment shows the animals can be moved to such a facility where they can live out their remaining days, we request UBC move forward with the rehousing of the turtles as quickly as possible.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is a nonprofit organization based in California that empowers individuals and communities throughout the world to protect marine wildlife.
As you may be aware, all seven species of sea turtles are at high risk of extinction. Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, sea turtles face a host of threats. Those threats include: pollution, especially from oil spills, beach front development, ingestion of marine debris, such as plastic bags, the illegal turtle shell trade, incidental capture in fishing nets, and turtle egg and meat consumption. In addition, artificial lighting along beaches often discourages female turtles from nesting and disorients hatchlings who may mistakenly wander inland, exposing them to predation.
At a time when the international community is undertaking efforts to protect and restore sea turtle populations, it makes little sense for an educational institution of UBC’s esteem to kill members of an imperiled species. By permitting a team of independent veterinarians to evaluate the condition of the seven turtles and, if appropriate, placing the animals in a sanctuary, UBC would be showing the world it is committed to conserving one of the planet’s most vulnerable species.
To our understanding, the University of British Columbia conducts extensive research on a variety of animals. Much of this research is funded by the public through taxpayer dollars, student fees, alumni gifts, and private donations. UBC promotes critical thinking, debate, transparency, and freedom of speech; however, the university has been less than forthcoming about its research on animals.
The public has the right to know about such research being conducted. Information about UBC's animal research and decisions by its Animal Care Committee should be made widely available. Information, data, and reports about animal research in the United States are posted at website databases through the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Agriculture. With that in mind, I urge UBC to post the following information online: Assessment reports of UBC by the Canadian Council on Animal Care from 2000-2009, including records of non-compliance and violations issued by the CCAC to UBC, as well as UBC's responses to those assessment reports Veterinary care and necropsy reports on animals at UBC for 2000-2009 Data on the number of animals used annually in research, teaching, and testing at UBC for 2000-2009. Data should include numbers of animals used by species, category of invasiveness, and purpose of use. Copies of animal use protocols by UBC animal researchers and instructors for 2000-2009 Photos, videos, and other recordings of experiments conducted on animals by UBC researchers and instructors for 2000-2009
Finally, we urge UBC to pursue alternatives to research on animals as other universities have done.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on February 17th, 2011
One year ago today a petition was filed seeking a long-overdue critical habitat designation for the endangered Kemp' ridley sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico. These sea turtles were included in the Endangered Species Act in 1970, and now in 2011, over 40 years later, the habitat vital to their survival has yet to be given protections. Both the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service are to blame, as they manage the Kemp ridley's U.S. ocean and beach habitats, respectively. Years of data show Louisiana barrier islands are a critical feeding area and Texas nesting beaches are now part of the healthy Kemp's ridley population.
Ironically, the petition is challenging the federal delays. Why the delays on habitat protections, and the delay in the lawsuit over the delay? I wish I knew. It seems the smallest sea turtle species on the planet is the smallest of priorities for the public agencies that could take action to protect them.
I applaud the efforts of the WildEarth Guardians, who filed the petition last year in February and then brought the issue back to court in August with a plea to end the endless delays and take action in the wake of the horrific BP oil spill. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project and its allies work every day to overcome these and many other delays in our fight to keep sea turtles from being pushed to extinction by offshore oil operations, commercial fishing, and continued habitat destruction.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on January 25th, 2011
The three big tuna companies - Bumble Bee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea - have joined forces to peddle mercury laden tuna to mothers and children who are the most vulnerable to mercury exposure. Tuna the Wonderfish should really be Tuna the Toxic Fish. All tuna contains mercury; and even "light skipjack" tuna is mercury contaminated. The risk to a woman or child's health from mercury is directly related to how much tuna they eat and their weight. The tuna industry is selling them on eating lots and lots!
The tuna fantasy campaign features a woman clearly of child-bearing age surrounded by attractive, athletic young men in a dream kitchen reminiscent of the 1950s when women were supposedly content to stay home and please their men with food and sex. Another fantasy. Who wrote these ads anyway? Charlie the Tuna?
The tuna fantasy website is offering misleading and potentially harmful advice when it FAILS TO MENTION MERCURY AT ALL OR THE FDA ADVISORY WHICH TELLS WOMEN AND CHILDREN TO LIMIT CONSUMPTION OF MERCURY LADEN FISH INCLUDING ALBACORE TUNA.
The tuna fantasy campaign blatantly urges women to eat at least two servings of fish each week and recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women eat two to three meals each week, including high-mercury albacore tuna. Nowhere is mercury mentioned. So what happens if they follow this advice and they or their child becomes ill? Will Tuna the Wonderfish come to the rescue?
The tuna fantasy conflicts with ample and recent scientific tuna testing and advice from numerous sources that women and children SHOULD SEVERELY LIMIT OR NOT EAT CANNED TUNA. (Consumers Union, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Good Housekeeping).
It seems that the tuna companies are so desperate to sell fish that they will put at risk both women and children to make profits. Gee that sounds familiar . . tobacco . . .alcohol . . . lead . . .
At best this ad campaign is irresponsible or a clear case of false and misleading advertising. At worst it could be making women and children sick. In case, the ad campaign is outrageous and wrong and should be removed.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on January 19th, 2011
Oprah's Australian shows are now airing and everyone is going ga-ga for the wonders of Down Under! But not all is well in Oz! We need Oprah and her fans to help Save the Kimberley.
Oprah never made it to the red rock country in the remote Northwest, but the town of Broome and the huge expanse of this wild and sacred land is a major destination for adventurers from around the world. Not to mention it is one of the world's last untouched havens for sea turtles, whales and rare corals and undiscovered marine life.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on January 3rd, 2011
On the Hawaiian Islands the green sea turtles that frequent local beaches and reefs are known affectionately as honu. The honu in Hawaii have a rich history, experienced dramatic declines in recent decades, and have been recovering slowly thanks to many local efforts to protect them and their beach habitats. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project has been fighting for many years to ensure the main threat to their survival, deadly industrial fisheries, increase sea turtle protections and decrease their allowable killings of these endangered species. Whether they are cavorting among coral reefs or sunning on the beach, the honu have many caring individuals looking out for them.
On the north shore of Oahu, the honu regularly come ashore at Laniakea Beach to sun themselves after filling their bellies with the lush green algae covering the rocky reefs. When they arrive on the beach, they are greeted by throngs of curious tourists and a group of dedicated local volunteers that protect the turtles from harassment.
It is quite a site to watch! With each lunge forward, cheers and screams emit from the dozens of tourists from across the globe that are drawn to this spot in the hopes of seeing sea turtles. The Japanese are especially vocal! The volunteer honu protectors can quickly identify the individual sea turtles by markings on their shells, and adjust their protective barriers and informational signs as each one arrives, creating a safe and educational zone for all. Their love for the honu is apparent with each caring adjustment and in each thoughtful conversation they have with onlookers.
Since SCUBA diving is one of my passions, I always try to spend as much time underwater on each trip to Hawaii, and a regular partner for these adventures are the great folks at Deep Ecology in Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu. This trip, we headed to Turtle Canyon! Known as a regular hangout and cleaning station for several honu, Turtle Canyon delivered a fantastic experience once again. Reaching the bottom at this relatively shallow dive spot took only 5 minutes, and finding a peaceful honu resting under a coral outcropping took another 1 minute. I kept my distance and snapped a few photos before the honu woke up and swam up for air.
My dive buddy and several others followed the expert Deep Ecology dive master to the end of the reef to a regular sea turtle cleaning station. On our way there, we were passed by another honu, swimming gracefully by us. The sea turtle settled in the sand and we all watched from a distance as it covered itself in a light coat of sand. The camera came out again, and those memories will last a lifetime.
Longline fishing in and around Hawaii has deadly consequences to the sea turtles that live and migrate through the central Pacific. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project has taken legal action on several fronts to close the deadly longline fisheries due to their unacceptable deadly bycatch of sea turtles and marine mammals. We will continue to fight these battles with your support to ensure the honu are protected and all Pacific sea turtles are safeguarded from extinction.
photos: Chris Pincetich, Sea Turtle Restoration Project
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on December 19th, 2010
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network is signed-on to a coalition with other concerned non-profit organizations in calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve its flawed seafood safety calculations which may be putting Gulf of Mexico residents consuming their average amount of seafood at risk. Click here to download the coalition letter to the FDA.
Recently, more evidence on the flawed risk assessment calculations performed by the FDA has made news headlines, see below for the full story.
Groups skeptical of federal seafood-safety testing
12/17/2010,Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter
Environmental groups are stressing the need for more independent data on the safety of Gulf Coast seafood after a study released last week found flaws in the federal methods for determining the region's seafood consumption levels.
Several Gulf groups are conducting their own testing of seafood from regions hit by the oil spill, saying that they do not trust the data federal agencies have used in declaring areas safe for fishing.
Groups also say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moved too hastily to open up fishing areas, pointing to the recent reclosing of 4,213 square miles of an 8,403-square-mile royal red shrimp fishing area after a fisherman caught tarballs in his shrimp trawler.
"The rush to say that seafood is safe is premature and hurts the brand more than if we all just waited a little bit and gave the science the time to tell us what's really happening out there," said Casey DeMoss Roberts, assistant director of science and water policy at the Gulf Restoration Network.
In the study released last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that FDA underestimated the amount of seafood that the typical Gulf Coast resident consumes. That information was used in calculations for safe levels of contamination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in seafood, chemicals that remain from the BP PLC oil spill.
FDA, according to the study, based its estimates of consumption on national data and used the average American male adult weighing 175 pounds as its basis for its calculations. It assumed that a Gulf resident eats seafood about twice a week and shrimp once a week. One serving of shrimp, according to the FDA, consists of about four jumbo shrimp.
The Natural Resources Defense Council surveyed 547 Gulf Coast residents on their seafood eating habits and found that their consumption rates were from 3.6 to 12.1 times higher than FDA estimates. The survey also found that Vietnamese-Americans had especially high seafood consumption rates in fish, shrimp, oyster and crab.
"Four shrimp a week is not even an appetizer for some folks around here," said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
Roberts said the NRDC's results were not surprising.
"As soon as we saw the consumption rates FDA had determined, it was laughable. They didn't even pass the straight-face test," she said.
The NRDC and more than 30 environmental and public interest groups sent a letter last week to FDA complaining of the discrepancy in consumption rates.
"We've been requesting that they adapt their standards for months and months and months now. This letter isn't the first time they've heard an outcry from people," said Peter Brabeck, environmental monitor for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
FDA defended its use of national data on seafood consumption.
"FDA is not aware of any published data upon which we can rely for seafood consumption figures other than what we used," said Sebastian Cianci, a spokesman for FDA, in an e-mail to Greenwire. He said the agency is reviewing the NRDC study to see if it is a suitable source of consumption data
Beyond seafood consumption rates, Gulf environmental groups say FDA's testing and monitoring methods are inadequate and rely on too few samples. When NOAA opened up 5,130 square miles of Gulf waters for fishing in September, it based the opening on sensory tests of 123 samples and chemical analyses of 183 specimens composited into 27 samples.
Since it is difficult to statistically represent the entire Gulf of Mexico, FDA "adopted a sampling strategy that gave us great confidence that the samples collected were adequately representative of the worst-case scenario for oil spill and dispersant residues," Cianci said.
FDA and NOAA continue to monitor the Gulf, and Cianci said they have not found merit in any reports of tainted seafood. But many environmental groups are carrying out their own sampling and gathering results from independent labs, citing stories of fishermen finding tarballs in fishing nets.
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr, working with technical adviser and chemist Wilma Subra and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, has collected samples from the west edge of the oil spill's damage all the way to the Louisiana-Mississippi border. On Monday, Orr released data on oysters, blue crab, mussels, shrimp and other seafood showing levels of PAHs and petroleum hydrocarbons.
He has not compared the data to any standards of safe levels because he said just finding any standards on total petroleum hydrocarbons has proved difficult. According to Subra, FDA has no established level of concern for total petroleum hydrocarbons.
"I don't think we've really had to deal with having very much petroleum contamination in seafood before," Orr said. "I don't think [FDA was] prepared for dealing with something like this. I don't think many of us were prepared for something like this."
Orr said the seafood looked "perfect" when collected. Because of this, environmental groups say they want federal agencies to abandon the practice of performing a sensory test, or what Brabeck calls a "sniff test," as a first step to test for contamination.
"It's crazy to me that that's actually considered the legitimate form of testing," Brabeck said.
A panel of NOAA experts observes and sniffs the seafood samples sent in from states, and if the samples pass the test, they are sent off to an FDA lab for chemical analyses of composite tissue samples. If the samples pass those chemical tests, the area from which they came can be reopened for fishing.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has taken a different strategy with its sampling. Started 10 years ago to test pollution from refineries, the brigade is now handing out sampling kits to residents to test seafood, air and water. Residents collect samples, wrap them in foil or put them in a nonreactive container, and ship them off in bags to a certified lab. The Bucket Brigade then interprets the data for residents.
"It's trying to get the community ... to sample what they think needs to be sampled," Brabeck said, adding that it also gives a voice to the communities that have been affected by the spill.
The local knowledge is key, Brabeck said.
"These people have been there for generations, a lot of these people six generations of fishing," he said. "These guys, they know what their environment looks like. They know what their water looks like before and after the spill."
After the big turtle wrangling night, sea turtle activity on EcoBeach
slowed for a few nights. Turtle-time took over as we all got into the
rhythm of beach walking by night, sleeping for a few hours at a time,
eating and resting. The heat and humidity kept non-patroling activity to a low ebb. What day is it?
one slow night on the beach, an elusive sea turtle seemed to intentionally avoid the
patrols. We crossed her tracks once at the beginning of a midnight patrol as she attempted to nest (a false crawl). Then a short time later, the earlier patrol passed us on their return to the resort and called to report they had sighted a second set of
tracks just behind us, but no turtle. The turtle must have crawled up again just minutes after
our crew had passed. Then at 2:45 am as we were headed
back after an uneventful patrol, we found a third set of tracks not far from the first two leading to, finally, a
nest, but again no turtle. If it was the same sea turtle, and we don't know for sure, it
appears she intentionally eluded the research team. Sea turtles can see, hear and smell us and our figures on the beach could make a nesting female wary.
On the second morning that my patrol returned from a night camping at
Jack's Creek, we exhumed another nest and found a hatchling still
struggling in the nest after all its mates had gone. Once again we were
able to release the little flatback into the sea and hope it had enough
strength to swim beyond the low waves.
Finally on our last night, we got busy with turtles again. This night we
needed to take an extra step by clipping a tiny piece of flipper to fulfill a
special request for flatback DNA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The CVA project here at EcoBeach managed by Glenn McFarlane is the only project in Australia where flatback DNA sampling is being conducted in 2010. So after I helped get flipper tag numbers, measure the sea turtle, and mark her nest, I assisted Tony in preparing the rear flipper for a quick clip of the flipper to put in a vile. Then we needed to break normal beach protocols and take a picture of the sea turtle with the DNA sample to document the sample for Uncle Sam. This is the only picture of me with a sea turtle for the week -- my hand holding the DNA sample!
Earlier that same night, the Jack's Creek patrol was lucky enough to see a daylight nests on their way out to camp. One of the Shell volunteers was generous enough to share his fantastic photos, which you see above. So far flatbacks have laid more than 60 nests! Next week, the CVA sea turtle tagging and monitoring team will be leaving the beach for the season and the first CVA EcoBeach hatchling program will begin to monitor the hatchlings as they emerge from the nests.
Last night I spent almost the whole night out on the beach with our crew of “turtle wranglers” and today slept all day and through dinner! It was a long night but exciting.
It was a all-girl team of four working with Glenn the research leader. I've learned first-hand that Australian flatbacks are far more skittish than the loggerhead. So instead of working with the turtle after she goes into her egg-laying trance, we must wait until it is done nesting and headed back to sea to tag, measure, get DNA. That means we need to stop the turtle as it heads for home, the ocean. Last night we ran into one big, strong female at high tide. So there wasn’t much sand between us and the water.
Rika, our Japanese student, was the on-point wrangler for this turtle. But she could not stop her. So I jumped in and was face to face with the sea turtle, hands on either side of her head pushing against her shell. I was able to slow her to a stop. But when Glenn clamped the tags into her flipper, she was not pleased and started hissing and snapping. Yes these sea turtles hiss, kind of like a cross between a cat and a dragon!
The turtle was like a tank pushing down the slope so a third woman, our French delegate from Shell, joined the frontline trying to hold her back. Then there was the second tag. Ouch! Run to the sea. We started getting wet from the surf. Now for the DNA sample! Ouch, hiss, push, slide.
Finally as the tide started washing over our legs, Glenn was done and the turtle released! We collapsed in the sand, exhilarated and exhausted. The sea turtle, unharmed, slips back into the sea.
And that was just the beginning of the night! We had one more turtle which was much more docile to work with. Then we observed several false crawls, and stopped to check on several nests due to hatch; and finally got back to camp by 3 am. We slept until 4:30 am in our tents – this was our first night camping down the beach at Jack's Creek, 12 kilomoeters from the resort.
After we got up for the morning drive-by patrol (the only time we use the truck) and had to stop numerous times to mark and measure tracks and nests from turtles we missed during the night.
We also needed to exhume two nests that had hatched. In one, we found two live hatchlings in the nest that had not made it to the surface. Because the tide was now so low [it’s been a 7 to 9 meter tide variation], we had to drive a ways and then walk across the mud flats to release the stragglers.
And then another set of tracks to measure and mark! So we finally got back to camp at 7:15 am, time to shower and eat breakfast at 8 am. Then I went back to bed and slept all day, literally sleeping until 5 pm and missing dinner, which we eat early at 4:15 pm due to the sea turtle patrol schedule.
One of the turtle leaders came to wake me up! I was lucky that when I came down to the main area that the cook took mercy on me and served me up a plate!
Now I am wide awake and will probably just stay up until my shift begins at 12 midnight to 3 am!
Photos of sea turtles by Dave and Fiona Harvey, a naturalist couple who lead turtle and whale tours for EcoBeach Resort. They are lovely people who just left here as it is the end of the season. If you want to contact them about photos, they can be reached at email@example.com Please don't use photos without permission! All of our sea turtles have come sshore at night when no flash photography is allowed! The Harveys have been fortunate enough to capture several daylight nesters!
On our first night patrol, we "new" recruits worked our first flatback sea turtle on EcoBeach under the direction of Conservation Volunteers Australia marine species manager Glenn McFarlane and his co-leader Tony. The flatback is smaller and more "feminine" than the big old dinosaur-like loggerheads at Mon Repos on the Queensland coast that I worked with earlier this year. These turtles are truly flatter in the carapace, a light olive grey and the flippers smaller but just as powerful.
With a New Moon, the beach was really dark but the skies spectacular with the Milky Way and the Southern Cross fully bright. The tides have been extreme making it impossible to patrol the north end of the beach at Jack's Creek. With the wind and tides, it seemed perfect for flatback nesting but last night, our third walking the beach, no turtles were sighted.
Then early this morning at 4:45 am just before sunrise, sea turtle research leader Tony drove us along the beach out to Jack's creek at low tide to see what was missed. Sure enough on the stretch of beach beyond where we were able to patrol at high tide, we found sea turtle tracks. Most were "false crawls," meaning the female did not leave any eggs behind. But we did discover one nest in the dunes!
So far this year more than 60 nests have been found and marked. The first nest of the season hatched two nights ago. The night patrol found the tiny tracks and returned a couple of days later to exhume the nest. Almost all eggs had hatched successfully (98 percent).
Flatbacks lay only 50 eggs compared to most other species which generally drop 100 or more eggs into the nest. The flatback eggs are larger in size and perhaps this gives them an edge. The science on this is still not definitive.
Glenn has made a significant finding after only three seasons tagging flatbacks here: It appears that nearly 75 percent of these females nest every year! Nowhere else in the world have so many sea turtles been tagged only to return in subsequent years to nest. One of these flatbacks nested all three years (2008, 2009, 2010). Glenn hopes to present the research to date at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in San Diego in 2011.
Photos by Teri Shore, top to bottom: Teri and sea turtle tracks on EcoBeach, a false crawl with tracks in several directions, and Tony of Conservation Volunteers Australia tagging a nest.
Posted by Lindsay Elam, Marine Biologist on December 8th, 2010
When I first learned that I would be an intern for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) I was ecstatic, especially since I just graduated UCSC with a Marine Biology degree and this was my first real world experience in marine conservation! I have learned so much on the issues concerning sea turtles around the world, along with what measures STRP takes to help manage these issues. My experience at STRP has made me realize I want to get into marine conservation and help save our oceans!
During my time at STRP, I was able to take on several projects, including: educating children about the seven species of sea turtles and why they are endangered, along with the effect of the Gulf oil spill; helped research for the AB 1998 Plastics Report, and refocused this report into three reports focusing on (1) U.S. West Coast, (2) California, and (3) Oregon; co-authored the U.S. West Coast Sea Turtle report; creating up to date volunteer resources where STRP can post opportunities for volunteers; created a guide on how to write a letter to elected officials about environmental and social issues; created a guideline to social media at STRP (a how to navigate through STRP’s facebook and twitter pages); edited Wikipedia pages with relation to STRP’s achievements; created a detailed list of useful educational material on sea turtles for teachers and for STRP to adopt. Also during my time at STRP I was given the opportunity to table at the Cal Academy Nightlife for Sharktober (10/14/10), helping to collect signatures for two petitions: to help save the Kimberly Coast in Australia and the Australian Flatbacks, from big oil companies, and to stop the Swordfish and Tuna Longline fishery in Florida to be labeled at “eco-friendly”; postcards were also encouraged to be signed, about three issues: (1) Obama, (2) Costa Rica Leatherbacks, and (3) the Kemp’s Ridley. I was also lucky enough to help table and sell merchandise at STRP’s Sea Turtle Saturday (11/6/10) at the Aquarium of the Bay.
One of the main issues I worked on while at STRP was plastic pollution and long-line fisheries endangering sea turtles globally. It is heartbreaking to see how many turtles drown from entanglement from long-lining, as well as how many turtles die from starvation due to the amount of plastics they have consumed. Being able to help raise awareness of these issues and help petition these issues was truly a rewarding and an eye opening experience.
My time at STRP has been truly rewarding and far exceeded my expectations. I was taught something new everyday. All the professional skills and experiences I have acquired while working at STRP, will benefit me in any career. I am very grateful I was able to work with such a dedicated organization.
I just arrived in Broome to stay with activists who are on the ground defending James Price Point from oil company invasion. The release of the "strategic assessment" is due in a week, and the gas hub not approved yet, but Woodside Petroleum is already preparing to clear brush and set up camps.
The blog Hands Off Country is documenting the defense and latest news, including court cases related to native title issues and the manipulation of the legal system by interests favorable to the industrialization of the Kimberley coast.
Aboriginal activist Neil McKenzie who visited us earlier this year tells Premier Collin Barnett that the people will not back down in fighting for the preservation of the Kimberley and stopping oil and gas exploitation.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on December 2nd, 2010
Sometimes protecting the oceans and sea turtles means driving away from the sea, as I did this week on a trip to meet with California legislators, activists, and the Ocean Protection Council in our state’s capitol city of Sacramento. I was joined by super-star ocean activist and regular STRP volunteer Deb Castellena. We had a plan where we could split up and accomplish all of our many goals for the day if needed. Sacramento is always an adventure!
A massive press event was scheduled at 11:00am to highlight governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strong support of state and local plastic bag bans as a means to improve the environment and save the lives of wildlife, like sea turtles. At the same time, I was scheduled to attend the rare public meeting of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to testify on behalf of our work developing ways to reduce bycatch from fisheries. The OPC meeting started first, and Deb and I both were pleased to share our Gulf activism stories with those friends we could meet with before the meeting started. Once underway, Deb left early to set up her camera at the plastic bag ban press event, but I stayed at the OPC meeting waiting for my agenda item….and waiting.
California is working towards developing their own sustainable seafood guidelines, and the preliminary draft of their proposal, which we helped shape, was presented at the meeting and is open for public comment through January 18, 2011.
I spoke in support of zero bycatch of endangered, protected, or threatened species in California’s fisheries attempting to gain the sustainable certification. Yes, ZERO BYCATCH! This goal is clearly stated in the long-standing Marine Mammal Protection Act, and in reality, some fisheries already can boast zero bycatch of endangered sea turtles and marine mammals. Allowing only those fisheries to proceed with a sustainable certification is the best option to protect California’s endangered leatherback sea turtles.
I also made sure that the entire OPC and everyone in the room was aware that the California Drift Gill-Net fishery has up to 50% bycatch and recorded a take on endangered leatherbacks last year. This fishery targets swordfish and sharks, two species so high in mercury that we should not even eat them. Near closing my comments, I made it clear that we can be a trusted resource to the OPC for their needs to gain information on California’s deadly fisheries and the abundance of data we have on the contamination of our seafood by mercury from our Got Mercury? Project.
The OPC and other folks commenting were all interested in expanded contamination testing of our seafood for our own sustainable health and to perhaps clear-up some public perceptions about contaminants tainting local seafood in Southern California. We strongly support this position and will be working with the OPC towards achieving strong contaminant testing in the sustainable seafood program.
The plastic bag ban press event was a huge success! We were disappointed that the organizers decided against a sea turtle and oceans rally along with the standard podium and speeches, but we were happy to be there showing strong support. An excellent video compilation featuring speeches by Schwarzenegger, Brownly, and an articulate Girl Scout was shot and edited by Deb and is below.
About 1,000 people turned out in Cottesloe, the cool beachside town that the Western Australian premier Collin Bennett calls home, to drive home a simple message: Save the Kimberley! I missed the Sunday, November 28, rally as I was on an airplane flying from San Francisco to Sydney and lost that day in transit! Now I'm here in Fremantle gearing up for a week of meetings and actions with the Wilderness Society of W.A. before heading off to Broome to help monitor Australian flatback sea turtles at EcoBeach!
Watch the blog and Facebook for updates over the next three weeks!
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on November 17th, 2010
A dispatch from Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron Campaign:
Continuing the comedic wave of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign, check out the latest video from the folks at Funny Or Die -- this time a behind the scenes look at how Chevron came up with its ad concept -- an "Anatomy of a Greenwash," if you will. Here's the link:
Nothing like comedy to reach the hearts and minds. Please share with your networks.
RAN is doing this jointly with Amazon Watch and The Yes Men and have received some 200 entries from creative designers around the world. The winners will receive a framed copy of their ad signed by The Yes Men and will be mass produced and posted across the country by our supporters. RAN will be announcing the winners this Friday.
The fight against the proposed new LNG plant in the Kimberley region of Northwestern Australia is heating up with protestors blocking the access road to James Price Point. Big Oil is preparing to clear out ancient bush in order to make way for the fossil fuel boondoggle.
Thousands of postcards from people who want to protect the Kimberley are being delivered this week to the Prime Minister of Australia in Canberra.
Activists loaded up a camel with the postcards to launch the send-off of the postcards.
Posted by Ashley Platz, actress and sea turtle volunteer on November 16th, 2010
Sea turtle advocate and STRP supporter Ashley Platz rallied with oceans activists led by folks at Heal the Bay on the
steps of the Hall of Administration on Temple Street in Downtown, Los
Angeles to support a plastic bag ban. Here is her story from the front line:
Everyone was wearing blue shirts and holding signs that read
slogans like; "Ban The Bag," "Dolphins Don't Shop," & "$21 every
second is wasted making plastic bags."
This friendly group of a few in
blue, soon grew to a small friendly mob of chanting hearts. Tons of
attention was grabbed from the media, to pedestrians, to city employees
on their way to work and even some drivers passing by the scene.
By 9:30 am all attention was on
us. Even with my background in oceans and sea turtle conservation I was astonished to learn some of the more recent numbers, such
as 1 shopper per year will use on average 500 plastic bags. Learning and acting to solve problems for sea turtles is
why I think this rally was fantastic, and because of all the facts behind the horrors of plastic bag pollution I am not surprised that LA County
passed the plastic bag ban. I am proud to live in a county that listens
to it's people and respects the fact that GREEN jobs will be brought
into Los Angeles to create the fabric shopping bags that will soon be a
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors put the plastic bag ban measure to vote, and it passed 3-1! This historic decision will need to pass another vote to finalize the language of the future ordinance, which will go in to effect in 2011. Click here to read more about this historic decision.
I was really proud to represent the sea turtles as a volunteer with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP). Being far from their main office hasn't stopped me from making a big difference, whether it is attending a local rally, using my Facebook page to share STRP action alerts, or creating the STRP Facebook Cause page, which now has over 15,000 supports!
Photo: Ashley Platz, far right, holds a sign showing a sea turtle suffocating on a plastic bag at the L.A. County hearing. (photo credit Kristin Carlisle).
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 22nd, 2010
Recently I have received personal Thank You letters from children and invitations to speak or write about the BP spill, but while the support is greatly appreciated it barely buoys my heavy heart that still feels the deep pain and suffering of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, marine mammals, and the wonderful people in the Gulf coast communities that were impacted by the BP oil spill. We are now six months from the horrific explosion that triggered the massive gusher of crude oil. Even more troubling is thinking of how 5 months ago the Gulf was covered in fresh, toxic oil and the public had no idea of the true extent of the amount of oil spewing into the homes of 5 species of sea turtles. BP's "controlled burns" started at the beginning of May, and it was not until June 11 that a fisherman was brave enough to share with the world his firsthand account of sea turtles that BP allowed to be dragged into the burn zones alive.
Six months have passed, but that is only a fraction of the time we expect to be monitoring the oil spill's effects on sea turtles, seafood safety, and the long-term impacts of the BP spill. In a recent interview on KPFA's award winning radio show Flashpoints with Denis Bernstein, I shared my concerns about the current conditions, the need for more transparent science, and how the Sea Turtle Restoration Project wants conditions in the Gulf to change in order to assist sea turtle recovery and restoration.
To listen to the radio interview, which includes gripping accounts from Louisiana residents and fishermen, click here.
To download and read out latest report outlining steps needed to assist sea turtle recovery and habitat restoration, click here.
All the support and appreciation shared to date has been tremendous, and I want to extend a huge amount of gratitude to all those that have written in, called, or sent donations to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project over the last month. Thank You!
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 19th, 2010
Educating the public about the biology, ecology, and conservation challenges faced by critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles is always a satisfying experience for me. While many Californians take pride in their stewardship of the beautiful ecosystems in their backyard and offshore of our beaches, very few folks are aware that sea turtles call our oceans home for many months of the year.
"Really? Those sea turtles are around here? I had no idea!"
"I've never heard of leatherback sea turtles."
"There are sea turtles in California? Where do they make their nests? How many are there? Is it just leatherbacks that eat jellyfish?"
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all sea turtle species and is specially adapted to thrive when in the cold waters of the California current. The green, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles frequently forage offshore of Southern California while the leatherback has been observed as far north as the Canadian border. The cold currents are home to its favorite jellyfish prey, the brown sea nettle. A single leatherback sea turtle can eat hundreds of jellyfish each day when their dense populations aggregate in ocean current convergences.
I joined an expedition with other ocean conservationists and California tourists to search for the elusive leatherback in an area where high densities have been recorded, the oceans outside of San Francisco and out to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The trip was part of SHARKTOBER events led by film producer and activist David McGuire and I was invited along as a guest Naturalist. Also on board was STRP volunteer extraordinaire Deb Castellena. Our vessel, the Outer Limits, was smooth as silk and the pride of the fleet for the SF Bay Whale Watching operation. We departed at dawn with a full boat and overcast skies.
The arrival at the Farallone Islands was spectacular! This small refuge is the largest pelagic sea bird nesting site on the west coast of the U.S., supporting hundreds of thousands of birds that are rarely if ever seen while on land.
Our goal was to spot rare leatherback sea turtles and document their location with coordinates and photographs. We were also on the lookout for great white sharks, which migrate to this area in the fall. And of course, whales! We had been on the boat for over 2 hours and not a single whale blow had been spotted, but as we motored south of the southeast islands, things changes quickly. A small group of humpback whales was spotted and they slowly approached our boat. We all scrambled to see them, take pictures, and smell that unforgettable "whale breath."
Then the blue whales arrived and stole the show. Massive in their overall proportions, it is quite a sight to see the tiny dorsal fin that pokes up from the largest living creature on earth. Our boat stopped, but the blues kept coming. We were all amazed when two blues surfaced only 100 meters from the boat, and then 3 humpbacks surfaced right in front of them! The video clip below captured by Deb documented this rare moment none of us will ever forget.
David and I spent the entire afternoon answering questions about sea turtles, whales, sharks, sea birds and the dense aggregations of krill we could see from the surface. Working in cooperation with other ocean conservationists only serves to strengthen our message, which was very well received by all on board. We had a great time doing it too, as can be seen in the photo on the right (Chris Pincetich, left; David McGuire, right).
Unfortunately, no leatherbacks were sighted on this trip. We have gathered information from several other charter operations confirming the presence of leatherbacks off of California right now, and will be publishing these soon. The work of an endangered species biologist can be difficult when attempts to gather observations of rare species are fruitless, but in this case, dozens of passengers joined the Sea Turtle Restoration Project email list, even more took our printed newsletters home to read and share, and they all saw unforgettable sights that will no doubt increase their love for the oceans and desire for their conservation.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 15th, 2010
Sometimes, the truth can be ugly. This is definitely the case when discussing how so many seafood diners start with the deadly practice of longline fishing, a commercial fishing gear type that kills thousands of sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and sea birds each year. International longline boats have a horrible reputation for fishing in closed areas for shark fins, creating massive amounts of marine debris, and killing countless sea turtles. When approached while fishing illegally, they have been documented cutting their lines in a rush to escape and leaving miles of abandoned line, hooks, and dead sea life that can continue to harm ocean for decades to come.
Saving sea turtles means bringing this horrible practice of longlining and the massive bycatch it creates to a stop. Education is one tool to stop longlines, but only if consumers take the necessary step of halting their purchases of swordfish and tuna, which are the two species targeted by most longline fisheries.
This video below shows a display of the massive number of innocent sea turtles and marine life killed as bycatch in longines. It was set up in the California Academy of Sciences during a Night Life event by Sea Stewards in partnership with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Thousands of guests learned a valuable lesson, that the swordfish on their dinner plate comes at a high cost, the lives of innocent sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks.
Special recognition should be made to David McGuire and all the fabulous volunteers at Sea Stewards.
Yellow tang, Snorkel Bob photo, copyright - do not use without permission
Hawaii conservationist, author and reef photographer Robert Wintner, also known as Snorkel Bob, explained the need to protect tropical fish and corals from the aquarium trade during a media and ocean community briefing today in San Francisco. He warned of uncontrolled tropical fish collection by commercial collectors in the Hawaiian Islands.
"The aquarium trade is a severe threat to reefs and tourism and an affront to Hawaiian culture," said Wintner, who is Executive Director of the Snorkel Bob Foundation and owner of Snorkel Bob's across Hawaii.
Robert explained that the incredibly bright yellow tangs that grace the cover of the book are easy to catch and often used as "loss leaders" by tropical fish stores to sell other more expensive species. Robert explained that the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii was once called the Gold Coast because yellow tangs numbering in the hundreds of thousands swam along the reefs there. Now they are mostly gone. Once captured and shipped to California or China or elsewhere around the globe, the yellow tangs usually die within 30 days of captivity. And where these fish have been decimated, coral reefs suffer and die from overgrowth of algae that the yellow tangs keep in check.
Another victim of the aquarium trade is the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, which is considered charismatic and in demand by the aquarium trade. However, this specialized fish will starve in 30 days without 30 to 40 other fish to clean daily. Hawaiian cleaner wrasses protect reefs from parasite infestation, yet they ship out daily by the hundreds from Hawaii with no limit and no constraint.
What to do?
Robert is leading the effort to establish laws in Hawaii to regulate aquarium collection. A Maui ordinance recently adopted by the county government will take the first steps to slow carte blanche extraction.
We at Turtle Island Restoration Network support his call to to rein in this trade of marine wildlife for aquariums, which is no different than any other "pet" trade - remember wild macaws and other birds being taken before laws were enacted?
Here are some other actions that we agree will help turn the tide:
1. Home aquarium collectors need to learn about the source of their tropical fish; and when the fish die, instead of replenishing, take the aquarium down for good.
2. People who love reefs and fish can replace the color and beauty in their home with alternatives like projecting lifelike images on a flatscreen TV. Have you ever seen those fake holograph fireplaces that look so realistic?
3. Set standards through state and federal for aquarium collection and if needed ban the practice to protect the health of coral reefs. With global warming, the world's coral reefs are at risk. Hawaii's could be the last intact coral reefs to survive. They should be given a chance for long-term survival.
Posted by Amy Kreimeier, Summer Intern on September 27th, 2010
My internship with STRP this summer has taught me more than I could have imagined on the issues concerning the welfare of sea turtles around the globe. The professional experience and skills that I acquired while working the STRP offices this summer will benefit me in almost any career I choose.
When I first learned that I would be an intern for STRP I was beyond thrilled, I have always been an advocate and supporter of sea turtle protection. It was not until I arrived at STRP did I fully come to understand all of the factors occurring in oceans and on land that affect sea turtles around the world. To hear about the effect plastic pollution has on endangered leatherback sea turtles and long-line fishing techniques being used around the globe that drown sea turtles daily is truly heartbreaking.
Over the summer I was able to take on several projects and duties at STRP including: educating children about endangered sea turtles and the effect the Gulf Coast oil spill has on populations; researching new information on sea turtles and compiling a list of achievements STRP has had with each particular species of turtle; assisting with publicity for the upcoming art show and auction; creating and managing the Facebook page ONE MILLION AGAINST BP OIL BURNING SEA TURTLES and working with the Got Mercury campaign.
The majority of my time at STRP was spent working on the Got Mercury campaign, which helps bring awareness to the issue of mercury in seafood. If more efforts are taken to ban mercury-laden fish, such as tuna and swordfish, from consumers there will be less long-line fishing and less sea turtles, who are caught and drowned in these lines. I helped to compile a list of all studies and articles that pertain to mercury in waterways and fish so that they can be easily referenced. I also worked daily to post on all blog and newspaper articles that related to mercury consumption directions to a personal mercury intake calculator at gotmercury.org. Using my social media skills I also promoted Got Mercury on the web and expanded it’s fan base.
To work for this organization during the worst environmental crisis ever, has been intense and humbling. The effects this oil spill has on endangered sea turtles, particularly nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, has brought worldwide attention to the plight of sea turtles. STRP was overloaded with calls and media requests on a daily basis and it was a very valuable experience to be a part of.
My time at STRP has been truly rewarding going far beyond my expectations. Every day was a new experience that taught me something different. I am so thankful that I was able to help this organization and work with such amazing and dedicated people.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on September 17th, 2010
Concerns over Gulf of Mexico seafood seem to be validated by this video clip below taken just outside the Mississippi River in late August. Shrimp boats dot the horizon, even before sunset, and while some are carrying BP booms to cleanup oil others are catching seafood for consumption.
Some Gulf shrimpers refuse to trawl for seafood, knowing there is oil lurking below the surface and they may be contributing to serving toxic seafood. Their reluctance is also due to the overwhelming media and U.S. agency response that the Gulf is no longer troubled by oil, and they know firsthand this is not the case.
As a sea turtle conservation advocate, I already have banned shrimp from my kitchen and ignore it when on a restaurant menu. Shrimp trawls kill hundreds of sea turtles a year! For millions of Gulf residents, they now must consider their own boycott of shrimp to save themselves.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on September 13th, 2010
Whole Foods is pushing more seafood in order to "save" the oceans, and at the expense of endangered sea turtles.
The new “sustainable seafood”
red-yellow-green color coding program announced today by Whole Foods totally ignores that
longlining for swordfish and tuna kills sea turtles by the thousands. And that tuna and swordfish is often laden with mercury so high that women who want children should not it eat. See the Whole Foods press release posted by D, a Dallas-based foodie blog.
While Whole Foods is claiming it will remove "red listed" fish in the future, if you try to figure which fish, you can't. That's because it is "mixing and matching" store by store the different seafood "sustainability" standards by EITHER the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch OR the Blue Ocean Institute, which are different. For example, the Blue Ocean Institute does not list ANY swordfish as red and gives a GREEN to all U.S. wild caught and farmed shrimp. Pelagic longlining and shrimp trawling kill THOUSANDS of sea turtles every year; and every species is in danger of extinction. Monterey Bay Aquarium still lists Hawaii longline swordfish and tuna as "good alternatives" even though the fishery continues to increase the number of sea turtles it captures. So I suppose that each Whole Foods store will choose which seafood guide to follow depending on the price of fish.
By the way, Whole Foods is definitely not the “first” to use color coded schemes for seafood
counters. They STOLE the concept from Fishwise in California.
Whole Foods is also bankrolling the certification by the Marine Stewardship Council of a Florida longline fishery that captures and kills endangered leatherback sea turtles and declining loggerheads that are proposed for endangered listing. If the swordfish and tuna fishery gets the eco-label it seeks, then every other wasteful bycatch fishery in the U. S., Canada and around the world will line up. How can any rational person, fisher, corporation or spin-master really believe that a fishery that kills or harms more than 50 percent of what it catches can be sustainable or ocean friendly?
Well, Whole Foods can because it is big, a brilliant marketer and makes billions. It is the WalMart of the environment. And it is making protecting sea turtles and the oceans harder every day as it markets "sustainability" to the end of the line.
can’t eat our way out of overexploited oceans. We need to eat less fish and
be very picky, like eating catfish and tilapia, not swordfish, shark or
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on September 10th, 2010
Over a million gallons of BP oil and dispersants is likely lurking in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, but near the surface, sea turtles, whales, and marine life is returning slowly. My friend and professional photographer Jerry Moran just shared more of his amazing work with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
Working together with Jerry, Bonnie flying her Cessna as On Wings of Care, Brock Cahill and others in the Gulf volunteering to help with our work through Sea Shepherd, and many others formed a tight family that is still in touch regularly. During a recent aerial survey, Jerry and Bonnie ditched the plan and used their gut instinct and in the process were rewarded! They encountered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, whale sharks feeding, and a sperm whale. Click here to view more of Jerry's photos from that day, taken out the window of a moving airplane, but sharp and clear.
Many questions remain about the effects of BP oil and dispersants to sea turtles, the Gulf ecosystem, and the health of residents of Gulf coastal communities. To hear the expert opinions of local Louisiana Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes leading health surveys and marine biologist and toxicologist Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, click here for the public radio blog and broadcast archive.
Sea turtles are still immersed and eating from oceans containing BP oil and dispersants. Monitoring of these Gulf sea turtles is taking place by professional sea turtle veterinarians scouring the habitat on boats. STRP rode along one of these trips and captured the following video of Dr. Brain Stacy and Dr. Joe Flanagan assessing the health of a young Kemp's ridley sea turtle then taking a blood sample from it for analysis.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 23rd, 2010
The search for BP oil spill effects has evolved along with the current conditions, meaning our Sea Turtle Action Team organized an expedition with local expert marine biologists and SCUBA divers to document any BP oil and effects we could find underwater. Dedicated Sea Turtle Restoration Project volunteers had flown to the Gulf of Mexico to help us save sea turtles from the oil and highlight their plight. With larger numbers, we charter two boats and launched from Venice, Louisiana to reach deep water as quickly as possible.
Our goal was to reach the dense mats of floating sargassum seaweed and look in, around, and under for sea turtles and oil. Secondarily, we had identified several offshore oil rigs that our guides, Captain Al Walker and Scott Porter, had dove under for many years to document the coral reefs and the myriad marine life they support. Leaving the Mississippi River from South Pass, we left the brown freshwater behind and entered the deeper green water of the Gulf quickly. Below us the ocean depth dropped from hundreds of feet to over a thousand feet. I watched as Captain Al Walker was shaking his head in disbelief as our boats passed quickly through a barren ocean usually thick with sargassum mats at this time of year.
During our voyage offshore, STRP volunteers Deb Castellena, Winnie Lam, and Tiffany Lane took meticulous notes on all wildlife sightings. I had trained them to spot and identify sea turtles and other marine life, and was proud to see them rigorously recording their observations on our data sheets. In the other boat, dedicated Sea Shepherd volunteers Brock Cahill and Charles Hermison had the same data sheets and the same rigorous approach to observing and recording wildlife. As our boats approached the first offshore rig and potential dive site, we had not seen a single marine mammal, sea turtle, or patch of floating sargassum. Very depressing.
Scott Porter has used SCUBA to document the evolution of the underwater structures on offshore oil rigs from bare metal into diverse coral reef ecosystems where he regularly sees sea turtles. He works with Steve Kolian and others on project EcoRigs, documenting, educating , and advocating to preserve these habitats when others wish to completely destroy the rigs when the wells run dry. We partnered as dive buddies, and Al Walker and Brock Cahill formed another pair of divers to explore the underwater habitat and find sea turtles.
What we discovered was un-nerving and uplifting. Coral, fish, and sea turtles have persisted, but small marine fish and jellyfish were mysteriously absent. Our video caught a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle swimming by! Scott Porter described the dive and how we had descended through an unusual layer that he described as dispersed oil. I too had seen the layer of light brown, stringy substances floating in the water column at about 10-15 feet of depth, completely out of sight from the surface. Scott pointed out dark stains on his suit and on mine, oily brown marks that rubbed off on us from contacting the marine life. Neither Scott nor Al had seen this substance rub off on their gear prior to the BP oil spill. We took samples. All sea turtles and marine life must now cope with this dispersed oil and residue throughout the Gulf.
Keeping a close watch on the surface as we sped towards home, I spotted a line of smooth water that appeared off from the blue green of the surrounding seas. Our boat slowed and we all gasped as a big, brown streak of oil appeared! Once again the pens were flying across the data sheets, the cameras were rolling and clicking, and many water samples were taken. Our team did a thorough job of documenting the oil and marine life, and our samples have been sent to accredited laboratories for oil and dispersant laboratories.
The final stretch home through the Mississippi River wetlands along Tiger Pass revealed an amazing diversity of life in the rosy light of the setting sun. We witnessed hundreds of rosette spoonbills, herons, egrets, laughing gulls, and a few alligators. It was a long day on the water and a very revealing and rewarding experience partnering with local and international groups to highlight the plight of endangered sea turtles in the BP oil spill.
To see the entire expedition mapped online with additional detail and photos, visit Trimble's new application page, Map the Spill.
FOX News 8 from New Orleans covered our expedition on a nightly news exclusive, complete with footage of the elusive Kemp's ridley that swam by quickly
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 21st, 2010
I joined the Unified Command on-water sea turtle capture team to witness their current operations; searching for sea turtles offshore in the sargassum seaweed, recording observations, capturing sea turtles, and evaluating the captured sea turtles’ health and oiled condition. Our team consisted of veterinarians Dr. Brain Stacy and Dr. Joe Flanagan, a two person boat crew, Jonathan from Inwater, and conservation group representatives David Godfrey, James Hammond, and myself. David Godfrey is the executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy and John Hammond, Regional Executive Director, National Wildlife Federation.
Our target search area was a large congregation of sargassum that had been spotted by helicopter over 40 miles offshore of Louisiana and west of the Deepwater Horizon wreck site. We reached our destination and began searching for sea turtles and oil. Our team was joined by a smaller boat that could maneuver quickly and more efficiently capture the sea turtles. The first sea turtle, and immature Kemp’s ridley, was captured in the first half an hour by the smaller boat. It was weighed, measured, tagged and cleaned out of sight of our team. After being carefully transferred to our boat, the team of veterinarians further inspected the lively young sea turtle and took a blood sample. No visible oil was seen on the sea turtle or the towel used to carry it, but the capture boat did originally report it as lightly oiled.
After four hours of searching in the sargassum we observed 2 Kemp’s ridley juveniles. I was both sad and disappointed that the professional team working for months in the Gulf could only locate a pair of Kemp’s ridleys in an area usually teaming with life and home to five species of sea turtles. Apparently, our boat team did not have either the range or time to travel the additional 30 miles to reach the forecasted “rip line”, the area where the clean green water ends and deep blue water begins. This convergence zone is the habitat that sea turtles prefer and the area where any remaining oil is likely to exist.
It was frustration to hear our suggestions on ways the sea turtle rescue teams could have been expanded or improved disputed because “too many regulations exist” to modify the incident response operations.
The sargassum that serves as the nursery habitat for sea turtles, cover for juvenile and adult fishes, and home to myriad invertebrates had no obvious signs of oil in the small area we inspected. Hauling some on deck, our team found juvenile crabs, shrimp, and some encrusting bryozan epiphytes. Fishes were observed under the biggest of the sargassum patches, usually patches bigger than a basketball court.
However, another massive “oil” pollution problem was readily apparent from the second we approached the first patch of the sargassum habitat. Plastic pollution and marine debris littered the sargassum mats at an alarming density. Hundreds of items could be seen in each patch, from plastic lawn chairs to plastic forks. Plastic bags that looked just like jellyfish floated near broken plastic buckets and were surrounded by sargassum. While BP is ready to vacate its cleanup responsibilities on the open ocean because their oil in now dispersed in the lower water column, there needs to be a new wave of cleanup crews deployed to tackle that plague of plastic polluting the essential sea turtle and fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 20th, 2010
Barataria Bay in southern Louisiana on a sunny morning is a beautiful sight. I had visited this huge embayment on July 9th, and was eager to see how conditions had changed in the oil soaked wetlands. I was joined by Gulf Sea Turtle Action Team and Oceanic Defense member Deb Castellena, Sea Shepherd volunteer Brock Cahill, and expert local marine biologists and boat captains. We set out to document the current conditions and check on several “Bio Booms” deployed to demonstrate new technology available to passively capture and remove subsurface oil from sensitive wetlands.
I hoped to see that BP had made significant strides cleaning the marshes, and was sorely disappointed. Once again, we witnessed displaced booms encroaching on endangered seabirds, weathered oil seeping from the marsh grass, and thick oil covering the frontal fringe of marsh islands.
Approaching one particular cove, I was hoping to see that the dark colors were natural muds in poor lighting, but as we grew closer, the bright reflections off the dead, black vegetation confirmed that oil still covered this entire area. The putrid smell of oil was obvious.
While some areas were a frightening black, a dull brownish red covered
the leading edge of vegetation along this entire marsh island. We
gingerly approached the grass, bent down and stuck to itself, and I
reached out to inspect it. Oil coated my fingers.
One very positive experience was witnessing the “Bio Booms” placed near oiled areas. They consist of thousands of “hairs” hanging below an absorbent boom. The hairs creating a huge surface area that bacteria cling to, creating a massive zone from natural filtration and biodegradation process. They had all soaked up quite a bit of oil, and hermit crabs had taken refuge inside the hairs.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on August 16th, 2010
With large waves and thunderstorms offshore, I changed plans during my Gulf of Mexico expedition and joined Gregg Hall on a Louisiana shrimp trawl boat for opening day of white shrimp season. Working undercover I was able to experience firsthand the operation of one of the deadliest fisheries to sea turtles in the U.S.
Louisiana shrimpers have long defied the federal government and have refused to use required Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their trawl nets. Hundreds of sea turtles have died this year in the Gulf this spring and summer, washed ashore with no signs of oil in them but full of shrimp and sediment, solid evidence of drowning in a trawl net. Before TEDs, it was estimated that Gulf shrimpers killed tens of thousands of sea turtles every year.
On board the small shrimp skimmer boat, we headed out into Barataria Bay, off of Grand Isle. Gregg has been documenting oil, and had a strong suspicion we would be seeing lots of oil along the bottom in the trawl. He had several absorbent booms that he used to sample both the surface waters and bottom for oil.
Seeing the bycatch dumped repeatedly onto the deck and scraped and shoveled over off the gunnel was a heartbreaking and disturbing sight. Hundreds of juvenile fish of all shapes and sizes, juvenile rays, cuttlefish, squid and spawning blue crabs were injured or killed in the nets and on the deck. While quick work by myself and Gregg insured over 90% of the bycatch was quickly and carefully swept overboard alive, may fish and rays has injuries from the harsh environment in the net and on deck.
Our captain cursed the use of TEDs, and had modified his boat and normal fishing grounds to avoid their use and to stay out of federal waters where some inspections occur. Sea turtles are rarely seen in Barataria Bay, but are common offshore outside of the barrier islands. TEDs are designed to save sea turtles, but in the back bays they would keep rays, large crabs, and large catfish out of the deadly nets.
There is really no excuse for such destructive fishing methods. If shrimpers and Louisiana elected officials can not agree to use new technology in their fisheries to save sea turtles and non-target species, these fisheries should be closed.
After a day on board the Louisiana shrimp trawler, I can confidently join our STRP board member and Goldman prize winner Randall Aruaz in calling for an end to all commercial shrimp trawling, which is destroying sea turtle populations and the habitat all life in the neritic zone depends on.
Posted by Cole Chassy, Summer Intern at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project on August 2nd, 2010
While interning at STRP this summer I acquired a great deal of knowledge concerning local and global issues that are vital to the preservation of sea turtles and endangered marine mammals. The vast array of duties I performed throughout my internship at STRP provided me with an invaluable professional experience that will without a doubt be tremendously useful in the future regardless of the career path I choose to take.
Prior to my internship at STRP I was unaware of the immense amount of issues that affect not only endangered sea turtles populations, but also our environment as a whole at a local, national, and global level. Being a lifelong resident of Northern California’s Bay Area, I had no idea about the drastic effect local fishing customs have had on the endangered Leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific, or the effect plastic bags and plastic bottle caps have had on this population as well. I must admit that prior to joining the staff at STRP this summer I did not concern myself with the conservation of endangered species or with environmental issues to a great extent. However, after spending just a few months at STRP I have become so much more aware and concerned with these issues, and I now know first-hand of the major impact that these issues have on my life as well.
Some of the more significant duties I performed over the course of my internship at STRP include: legal research of various legislative acts created by the United States congress, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act; supporting legal action against long-line fishing activity which has an extremely drastic effect on sea turtle populations; creating a list of thousands of established scientists in fields related to marine biology in efforts to attain global scholarly support of STRP’s efforts to protect endangered Leatherback turtles in Costa Rica; and drafting several memorandum dealing with major issues regarding endangered sea turtles to a quite diverse collection of recipients, ranging from the head of Unified Command in charge of the overall BP Gulf oil spill clean-up effort, to Miley Cyrus, who prominently featured Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles in one of her recent films.
The most significant experience of my internship, however, was being at STRP’s headquarters while the plight of endangered Gulf sea turtles, mainly the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, came to the forefront of global media attention. Being the preeminent authority on sea turtle conservation, STRP was flooded with non-stop media requests from major media outlets across the globe. Listening in on several interviews dealing with the effect the BP Gulf oil spill has had on sea turtles in the Gulf region, then seeing that interview online or printed in a magazine or newspaper not long after was quite a unique experience to have. I even got to be on the local evening news!
Throughout the summer, one of the more crucial roles I had in regards to the BP Gulf oil spill was managing several blogs on respected websites, which provided detailed accounts of my supervisor, Dr. Chris Pincetich. On his initial trip to the Gulf region of the United States he led an endeavor to convey to the those concerned a legitimate account of efforts to save endangered Gulf Sea turtles, the overall BP oil spill clean-up effort, and the effect the spill has had on Gulf communities. On our CNN ireport alone we had over a thousand people view our photos that Chris had taken while flying over the Gulf of Mexico. These photos provided firsthand accounts of the Deepwater Horizon platform, where the spill actually occurred, in addition to a bird’s eye view of the extent that the oil had spread over the Gulf. I also had the duty of drafting a memorandum to Unified Command, designated as the key party involved in the BP Gulf oil spill clean-up effort, outlining certain legislative acts established by the United States Congress that all parties must abide by regarding the protection of local endangered species sea turtle populations.
The overall experience I had at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project widely exceeded my expectations. Each day was different than the day before, and every single one of these days I spent at STRP I learned something new. To anyone who wants to make a positive impact on the world they live in, as well as on their own life, regardless of the career path they choose to take, I sincerely suggest being an intern, or volunteering for a day or weekend at an event, or donating to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 28th, 2010
Chris Pincetich and Wallace "J" Nichols struggle to smile once back on the ground after witnessing thousands of square miles of sea turtle habitat impacted by the BP oil spill.
One hundred days have passed since the horrific explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, a sad anniversary for all sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of life has been catastrophic for ocean dwelling organisms. Official tallies are likely only a fraction of the true toll of sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea birds that have perished from oil toxicity, oil fouling, starvation or deadly interactions with the fires, boats, and dispersants that crowd the incident response scene.
I've personally been following the disaster since the beginning, and looking back over the events of the last 3 months a few specific events stand out.
On April 23 I responded to a NOAA scientist inquiring to the sea turtle scientific community with an email jam packed with peer-review oil study references, and on April 28 I emailed this same NOAA representative expressing concerns about the "controlled burns" that started and the risks they imposed to endangered sea turtles.
On June 18 I sent members an action alert to Stop the Boom and Burn of Sea Turtles and submitted the first official proposal to Unified Command requesting that the Sea Turtle Restoration Project team of biologists and toxicologist join forces with the response units to increase sea turtle rescues. The action alert has been our most active this year and sparked a wave of alerts from our partners that generated over 200,000 responses, demanding BP stop burning sea turtles in their operations. Our proposal to Unified Command is still on their desk, as they "have not yet determined how to include" our team in their efforts.
On July 5th I joined an oil expert, a caring activist pilot, and Dr Wallace "J" Nichols on an amazing fly over of the Louisiana wetlands, over the oiled ocean, out to the "ground zero" explosion site, and back. Words can not describe that trip, so watch the video clip I shot as we flew away from the incident scene.
July 9th I stood on a beach that BP cleanup crews had not yet touched. A layer of weathered oil coated the low tide habitat that was as thick as an asphalt street. The marsh grass that secured this barrier island was dead. Oil coated marine debris, and there was a lot of it. In only 20 minutes, I collected dozens and dozens of plastic bottles that had washed up on this remote beach and loaded them on our boat to be disposed of properly.
July 12 I met Jean-Michel Cousteau and Fabian Cousteau and formed a partnership to add their support to our rescue efforts.
July 13 I performed an interview with Denis Bernstein for Flashpoints radio, one of my personal favorite NPR radio segments. He broadcast my discussions on sea turtles, the oil and dispersant toxicity, and work in the Gulf for over 15 minutes!
We are still communicating daily with Unified Command and Gulf partners to increase sea turtle rescue, keeping a close watch for any sea turtle threats in BP's operations, and preparing to advise on the needs of endangered sea turtles for the restoration planning effort that will soon be underway. It's been a long and arduous 100 days, but the Sea Turtle Restoration Project is ready for the next 100 years of work to protect and restore sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.
A new international sailing regatta that will bring the world's attention to the Kimberley region has just been announced in Australia. This incredibly wild and unspoiled corner of Northwestern Australia is home to flatback sea turtles, humpback whales and giant whale sharks -- a divers delight! Turtle Island Restoration Network is thrilled to help sponsor and promote this innovative and adventurous sailing event to generate global support to protect the Kimberley from imminent exploitaton by Big Oil -- Chevron, Shell, BP. If you are a sailor or simply love the ocean and sea turtles, you'll want to check out this website and spread the word about the Kimberley Sailing Regatta.
Last year I visited the Kimberley and the tight-knit community working together to fight the destruction of these wild and sacred lands. In early June we hosted two activists who came to the San Francisco Bay Area to tell their story. In December, I'll be going back to help count flatback sea turtles and nests at EcoBeach. You can still join me as there is still space on our Eco-Tour with Conservation Volunteers Australia - but time is running out! Read more here.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 12th, 2010
Almost 100 juvenile sea turtles rescued from the BP oil spill are recovering well in the primary sea turtle rehab facility, the Audubon Nature Institute's New Orleans Rehab center. Most are housed in small, black tubs and fed daily by caring workers that take detailed notes on their condition. Medical care is provided to all the oiled and rescued sea turtles, and the staff at Audubon Institute is happy to report that over 95% of the oiled sea turtles brought to them have been treated for exposure and are still alive.
The majority of sea turtles in care are less than 3 years old and Kemp's ridleys. Only one immature hawksbill has been recovered, several larger and immature green sea turtles, and less than a dozen immature loggerheads, like the one above.
The behavior of Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtles does not allow them to safely share a single container. Only the green sea turtles are docile enough to share space, like these two young green sea turtles above.
Sea Turtle Restoration Project's Chris Pincetich and Dr. Wallace J Nichols joined the Ocean Future's team featuring Jean-Michel and Fabian Cousteau for interviews with Audubon Institute Staff about the rescued sea turtles. Jean-Michel Cousteau was very concerned to learn that the rehab center had much more room to care for oiled sea turtles, but current rescue efforts on boats are not meeting this need.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on
In Louisiana wetlands, huge flocks of birds are gone, schools of fish have virtually disappeared, and shoreline vegetation is dead and dying. A day collecting evidence of the wetlands destruction with the Gulf Sea Turtle Action Team was revealing and heartbreaking.
The scenes seen here are strong evidence that sea turtle habitat has been destroyed throughout much of their habitat in Gulf waters off Louisiana, which is well known to be a primary foraging areas for several species of endangered sea turtles. We confirmed that oil mats are sinking and smothering what was once endangered species habitat.
Grasses exposed to the oil are now coated brown and black, and areas that have neither been protected by oil booms or part of cleanup efforts are mostly dead by now.
We landed our boat on a stretch of beach not cleaned by BP crews and low tide and were devastated by the impact. Oil mats 4 to 6 inches thick were seen in the lower intertidal areas. Vegetation crucial to holding the entire barrier island in place was dead.
I focused half an hour of effort of sea turtle habitat restoration while a professional film and photography team documented the destruction. Plastic debris has killed countless sea turtles in the open ocean, and removing it from beaches is a simple was we can improve their habitat. This remote Gulf beach was inundated with plastic. Standing on the high tide dunes I could reach a plastic bottle to both my left and right sides without moving. Once I found a derelict cooler, I had even more ability to haul out this plastic debris. Much of it was oiled, and it was properly disposed of at the BP run marina site when we landed at the end of the day.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 9th, 2010
BP cleanup crews are working east of Grand Isle, Louisiana, to remove oil
and oiled sand from south facing beaches. Four outposts of shade tents with workers dotted this beach and crews were actively cleaning an area almost half a mile long. Piles of new sand were ready for crews who typically cover the cleaned area with non-oiled sand as a final step in the process.
Our Sea Turtle Action Team,
consisting of Dr. J Nichols, Dr. Chris Pincetich, local photographer Jerry Moran, and Red Bridge Productions spotted several pods of bottle nose dolphins and over 10 species of birds,
and did not observe any sea turtles. Our local guide was shocked at the
lack of wildlife we encountered in over 100 square miles of surveys throughout the back bays north and east of Grand Isle.
The ocean water is impregnated with dispersed oil, and our team took a
unique video showing the red-brown colors of weathered oil dominating
the water under the surface. To see the underwater video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybAG7G...
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 9th, 2010
Bottle nose dolphins swimming in the back bays near Grand Isle, Louisiana, stir up red-brown sediment from the bottom of
Barataria Bay in this video taken by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. The suspended sediment is the same color as the weathered oil that has
covered this once thriving ecosystem. Several dolphin pods were observed, as
well as over 10 species of birds. Despite hours on the water in back bays and the Gulf ocean, no evidence of any sea turtles was seen.
Local photographer Jerry Moran has
grown up visiting this area, and says the numbers of birds and fish he
sees now is a small fraction of what is normal. Clearly, this ecosystem has been devastated. Boom surround a few islands but many areas are unprotected. Even with the orange and red booms, the island shores are scattered with oil and discarded cleanup materials. See some amazing
photographs by professional photographer, native Louisiana resident, and Sea Turtle Restoration Project in the Gulf, Jerry Moran, at http://nativeorleanian.com/
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on July 7th, 2010
We met up with Tom McPhee of the World Animal Awareness Society to add to his current film project. J Nichols and I toured them through the aquarium to see the four Kemp's ridley sea turtles that were rescued from the Gulf oil spill and are now on display. Once again, we shared our stories with visitors and docents. These little Kemp's are fun to watch!
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 6th, 2010
The majority of live sea turtles rescued from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill so far have been juvenile Kemp's rileys. Populations of these endangered sea turtles are growing, and the smaller, immature individuals are more abundant in the Gulf that reproductively mature adults. Four of these small Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovered from the oily Gulf ocean have recuperated and are now holding and on display at a public aquarium in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. J Nichols and I visited them today, and they were definitely the star of the show at the aquarium.
We spoke to many visitors and the aquarium volunteer docents about the plight of these endangered sea turtles, the current conditions in the Gulf we witnessed during our recent airplane fly over, and our efforts to protect all Gulf sea turtles from being burned alive by BP cleanup operations.
This little turtle below, LA-15, was swimming around slowly but was very aware of the visitors and my camera. He came back several times for more photos, but my favorite is this nice portrait below. This little sea turtle is a living symbol of how the courage and determination of sea turtle rescue teams can make a difference in the life of an endangered sea turtle.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 6th, 2010
Juvenile and dying sea turtles caught up in the BP oil spill are moving with the cycling Gulf of Mexico currents shown here. Oil is likely to arrive in southern Florida in July based on current NOAA predictions and oil is likely to arrive in Texas as well.
The location of the BP oil gushing from the ocean's floor places it in the heart of several current patterns that will spread the oil and dispersants to all shores along the northern edges of the Gulf and outward to the Atlantic Ocean and perhaps into the northbound Gulf Stream, which passes by the entire east coast.
All 5 species of sea turtles are in jeopardy, and endangered Kemp's ridleys are at the greatest risk from this catastrophe. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project lawsuit has stopped BP from burning sea turtles alive for now, but our fights to protect and remove sea turtles from the oil spill continue.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 5th, 2010
An expert team was assembled today for a flyover of the Gulf oil spill: Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols, STRP Board member and acclaimed sea turtle biologist and activist; Bonny Schumaker, pilot for On Wings of Care and experienced Sea Sheppard activist; an agency expert on oil spill chemical physics who is conducting detailed studies; and myself, Sea Turtle Restoration Project marine biologist and toxicologist. We had to pack light for our flight onboard “Bessie”, the 1971 Cessna that has flown successful missions for wildlife conservation on both hemispheres of the globe. Thunderclouds lined the horizon, but we had confidence we could maneuver to safe skies and departed in the morning hours on our flight path to cover much of the Louisiana coast and out to “ground zero” of the spill.
Our goals were to document the sea turtle habitat destruction, spot any wildlife in and around the spill, locate areas of dense oil for agency studies, and share our observations with the world.
For almost an hour we cruised at 80-120 knots in Bessie over bayous, beaches and open ocean seeing only tar balls, small islands of reddish weathered oil, and some large, thin slicks. Our agency expert relayed information on estimated oil thickness and age based on the color and type of reflections the oil produced, and I took notes detailing conditions, wildlife sightings, and GPS coordinates of all interesting observations. We spotted a school of approximately 30 cow-nosed rays swimming at shallow depths. We flew over the Mississippi River Delta and the mouth of the river, seeing oil slicks and failed booms along established oil platforms and boats leaving Venice heading to the open ocean, and the massive convergence zone of fresh water laden with sediment colliding with the oiled sea water.
The entire crew was heartbroken and amazed to see a distinct line stretching to the horizon with blue ocean on one side, gray seas on the other and weathered oil along the convergence. We had been flying over sediment and oil-covered waters the entire morning, looking at oil slicks on top of a dirty, oiled ocean. Further studies are warranted to determine if the distinct blue to gray convergence was only due to oiled waters or if sea floor bathymetry or sediment loads were also contributing. Our agency expert and observations by the team placed us far from obvious sediment convergence seen along the Mississippi. The immensity of the sea turtle habitat destruction is difficult to describe in words. A significant portion of one of the most productive ocean ecosystems is coated in oil, and the foul weather is likely mixing the oil and dispersant emulsions deep into every trophic level of sea life.
Smoke on the horizon marked the location of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the current oil recovery efforts. Over a dozen boats clustered around two floating rigs, one red rig on a square platform and one built into a vessel. Methane flares burned brightly from each rig, sending dramatic plumes of flames into the sky. Support boats sprayed liquids all over the scene, liquids that may have been seawater or dispersants. Bonny allowed us to open the windows to improve our chances at good photographs, and some of our results are stunning. The bad weather cleared temporarily, and to our amazement the ocean around the rigs was still blue. Even at hundreds of feet above the operations, the smell of petroleum inundated the airplane.
Our flight plan took us north to the remote wildlife refuge of the Chandeleur Islands. This island chain had been protected by thin strands of yellow and red oil booms, and most of these booms were now displaced. Hurricane Alex has wreaked havoc on the meager attempts to protect sensitive wildlife areas from the spill. Beaches were stained black and red as we flew high over the islands to ovoid contact with the thousands of sea birds below. Bonny knows this area very well now, having spent over 60 days in the Gulf performing flyovers to monitor the Gulf oil spill.
The final leg of the flight path was changed on the fly (no pun intended!) as real-time weather reports radioed to us allowed us to thread through narrow bands between massive thunderstorm clouds. Bessie bounced and weaved, and rain streaked across the windshield. Landing in high crosswinds was negotiated with skill by Bonny, and we were all extremely satisfied with the day’s observations.
No sea turtles were spotted from the air on water, in convergence zones, or on remote beaches. However, our team now has firsthand knowledge of the immense sea turtle habitat destruction present in the Gulf, which is growing every day. We will continue our efforts to provide transparent reports on Gulf conditions and activities in our effort to improve sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation from oil exposure, and habitat protections for future generations of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
Local sea turtle groups are working hard here in Alabama to protect the few sea turtle nests along these white sand beaches from BP beach cleanup crews and the oil washed ashore. Teams go out every night to ensure protocols are followed which forbid lights along nesting beaches, and these team members all have OSHA training to ensure they are working safely in a toxic environment. Some sea turtle nest relocations have begun for Gulf beaches.
Thousands of Gulf residents have descended on oiled beaches to enjoy a break in the stormy weather and are swimming, picnicking, and playing on the oily sands and in the oily waters. On the beaches in Alabama, which have been hit hard by oil for over a month now, the BP crews have mixed oil into the sand. Sand coated tar-balls are mixed in all over, and the sand now has a orange tint where it once was white.
Luckily, sands in the upper dunes where sea turtle nests can be relocated are still pristine. If oil can be contained to the high-tide line and below, there is hope that the nesting habitat for future generations of sea turtles can be protected during this catastrophe.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 3rd, 2010
Offshore swells of 6 feet and more in the Gulf kept all BP managed boats in safe harbor again, delaying sea turtle rescue efforts another day. Frustrated by the lack of work in Destin, Florida, I traveled west to Alabama where oil has been landing on beaches for weeks.
Perdito Bay is home to several resident pods of bottle nose dolphins, and nobody knows them better than Captain Lori, the "Dolphin Queen." I visited Lori and saw first-hand the smaller, Perdito Bay dolphins were now joined by much larger dolphins that likely resided in the Gulf. Lori has seen a dramatic influx of these Gulf dolphins taking refuge in the back bays.
The back bays we toured had several pods of dolphins, some swimming right alongside oiled booms. Booms have been in place here, almost 5 miles from the Gulf ocean, for several weeks. The yellow plastic is now brown from prolonged contact with small oil slicks that blow in from the massive slicks offshore of Alabama. It was sad to see oil this far back into what appeared to be protected bays, but encouraging to know that some of the ocean's most intelligent mammals had found a safer place to forage and a loving caretaker in Captain Lori, the "Dolphin Queen".
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 2nd, 2010
Sea turtles large and small are dealing with one of the most horrible substances I have ever touched: weathered oil tar balls from the BP oil spill. This stuff sticks like glue, and is all over the sargassum seaweed that I saw. This is especially alarming because juvenile sea turtles use the saragassum mats on the Gulf as a primary foraging habitat.
Since bad weather continues to delay the sea turtle rescue boats, I drove west from Destin to find the impacts of the BP oil spill on Florida's beautiful white sand beaches. I have heard scattered reports that oil and tar balls had been spotted on Destin beaches, but a brief trip I took yesterday was fruitless. Driving west past Fort Walton beach I was reminded of the many sea turtles nesting along this stretch despite the offshore oil and massive ruts in the sand caused by trucks allowed to drive on the beach.
As I began my walk along Navarre beach, the striking white sands and blue-green waves were dominant, with only scattered bits of sargassum and other seaweed at the high tide line. I picked up some big and small pieces of plastic marine debris that washed ashore, some bits of trash, like I always do at the beach. Then I spotted something unusual - a dead fish on the high tide line, looking very fresh. As I grabbed my camera, I realized my hand had sticky, weathered oil on it. The plastic debris had bits of it all over, brown goo that looked like dirt.
As I walked past the final public boardwalk over the dunes, the high tide line was scattered with much more seaweed, and weathered oil tar balls. The sudden appearance of hundreds of tar balls on the beach must have been due to the limited range of the BP cleanup crews. The fact that the tar and oil is associated with the sargassum means hundreds of thousands of juvenile sea turtles will be eating and touching these tarballs.
I drove home extremely sad knowing that I had only witnessed the tip of a very big, brown iceberg of oil looming offshore of Florida's sea turtle nesting beaches.
The story of turtles getting burned alive by BP, the lawsuits we filed to stop it, and related news about turtles and the Gulf oil spill have been published in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian in the United Kingdom and in blogs and other media outlets around the world. Here are links to some of the stories: Deal near to save turtles from Gulf oil burnings Reuters
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on July 1st, 2010
Oiled waves are now pounding the Gulf shores, and sea turtles are
caught in the toxic turmoil. The foul weather has suspended all cleanup
and wildlife rescue operations, but the sea turtles are doing their
best to survive and reproduce in the turmoil. Last night, 2 new sea
turtle nests were spotted and protected in the shores of Fort Walton
Beach, Florida. Massive ruts from tire tracks slowed the progress of one female attempting to reach the safety of the dunes, she turned around and nested among the ruts. Her nest was relocated to safety in the protected dunes. Thanks are extended to Sharon Maxwell at the South Walton Turtle Watch for the photos.
Thunderstorms throughout the Gulf in the wake of Hurricane Alex have delayed sea turtle rescue operations for another day. While based in Destin, Florida, I continue to help with local efforts to prepare for oiled beaches and assist with community efforts to prepare booms, and am in touch with the local sea turtle volunteer conservation organization and beach patrols.
The Vessels of Opportunity is a BP-sponsored program that hired boat captains to assist with oil spill operations. I located the tiny office established in Destin by BP, not too hard considering it is surrounded by packed oil booms waiting to be deployed. When a new truck arrived full of cleanup materials, I volunteered with the locals to unload the truck. With all of us working, we made quick work of a large task.
I met with the boat captain, who is a doctor and regularly volunteers to assist with sea turtle recovery on the water near military dredging operations, and we began preparations for our time at sea. The boat is a twin hull design that can cruise through smooth waters at 28 knots, a fast clip that should allow us to reach our target locations quickly. Our safety gear, sea turtle capture equipment, and oil cleanup materials are loaded on the boat and ready to go. We are hoping tomorrow's weather will clear enough to ensure a safe voyage.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 30th, 2010
While waiting for stormy weather to clear and sea turtle boat rescues to resume, I have been meeting with agency officials, marine life care facilities and local community organizers to expand the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's involvement in the oil spill response. The Unified Command cleanup efforts have been very prohibitive of volunteer help from local communities, but slowly this situation is changing for the good of the struggling sea turtles and coastal communities.
I meet today with agency officials in Florida to increase the scope of sea turtle rescue operations in the Gulf, and we expect to be in the water bringing in sea turtles once weather from tropical storm Alex clears up. A new oiled sea turtle rehabilitation center is preparing to be online to partner with our efforts. Gulf World, located in Panama City Beach, has handled over one thousand sea turtles during cold-stun events and is now equipped with new pumps, tanks, and medical equipment to care for the oiled sea turtles our team recovers from the spill. The Gulf World staff are qualified experts, friendly caretakers, and are dedicated to helping sea turtles in the Gulf.
Matter of Trust is a volunteer-based nonprofit based in northern California that has expanded exponentially in Gulf states to respond to the BP oil spill. I visited their warehouse in Fort Walton Beach, volunteered and helped construct oil booms from donated hair and stockings. These booms have excellent oil absorbing properties, far better than the standard booms used now by BP. After working alongside the locals, we discussed ways to channel more volunteer help to increase efforts for beach cleanup and for wildlife rescue and care. The long night ended with a visit from a local Coast Guard officer who is very interested in learning more, helping test the booms, and incorporating more of this excellent community-based project into the official spill response.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is headed to the Gulf of Mexico to launch our Gulf Spill Sea Turtle Rescue and Action Team. Dr. Chris Pincetich has been posting daily updates since the spill began and shortly he will be posting news from the front lines of the oil spill. See the Daily Updates. Follow his Gulf reports beginning next week by signing up to our Facebook Page or follow us on Twitter @seaturtles_org
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 23rd, 2010
With at least 535 sea turtles impacted by the deadly duo of the oil spill and commercial fishers taking shortcuts in the confusion that is the Gulf of Mexico, it is clear that action must be taken immediately to improve recovery operations. Our alert last week woke up the nation to the fact that endangered sea turtles were being burned alive in BP's oil corrals to "burn boxes". This week, officials at Unified Command are now promising to place biological observers on burn boats to report sea turtles, and boat operations to recover sea turtles may increase soon.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 15th, 2010
A total of 430 sea turtles have now
been impacted by the deadly duo of commercial fishing and offshore oil
in the Gulf. Eleven new sea turtles have been rescued alive and oiled today. An
additional 8 sea turtles were reported as dead strandings, with the
presence of oil still "pending".
Of all wildlife collected in the
wake of the BP oil spill, the presence or absence of visible oil was
determined on 99.3% of birds, 90.3% of marine mammals, and only 39.7%
of sea turtles. To download the data, click here.
With trained fish
and wildlife professionals handling all the official activities, it
remains a mystery as to why the presence or absence of visible oil on
over 60% of the sea turtles is still not known.
"I have made
written and verbal requests for the results of the sea turtle necropsy
tissue sample analysis, and have not received a response from NOAA or
the wildlife care professionals. The death of each endangered sea
turtle can not be taken lightly. Our public agencies have a duty under
the Endangered Species Act to determine causes of death and take
enforcement action where needed," says Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea
Turtle Restoration Project.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is
investigating the irregularities of the current cause of death of the
hundreds of sea turtles this year being tallied by the Consolidated
Fish and Wildlife officials. We have led efforts in the Gulf to reduce
sea turtle deaths for over a decade. Intense commercial fishing
pressure continues to be the leading killer of endangered sea turtles,
and we intend to "keep our boot on the neck" of our public officials
until this mystery of hundreds of stranded Gulf sea turtles is solved.
Dr. Mike Ziccardi from the University of
California at Davis, head of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and
currently stationed in Louisiana overseeing sea turtle rehabilitation,
reported today that 75 sea turtle necropsies have been performed, and
no signs of oil internally or externally were detected on these first
75 dead sea turtles.
Shrimping nets continue to be the lead
suspect in the deaths of hundreds of sea turtles this spring that have
washed ashore without any signs of oil exposure.
Posted by Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 9th, 2010
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project joined a protest rally on World Oceans Day to share the catastrophic story of endangered sea turtles that are dying by the hundreds in the Gulf of Mexico due to the BP oil spill. Dozens of protesters gained the attention of BP executives as they marched, shouted, and shared their outrage outside of BP's corporate offices in downtown San Francisco, California. STRP's Chris Pincetich led volunteers and interns Angie Rodoni, Cole Chase, and Stephanie Wang to get petitions signed, pass out STRP newsletters, and share the plight of the endangered Kemp's ridleys with all who attended. The event was coordinated with a nation-wide effort by the group Seize BP to protest against BP's corporate blunders, cover-up, and slow response to address the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
In the wake of World Ocean's Day, experts detail BP's cover-up that
millions of gallons of dirty oil could be leaking EACH DAY into the
Gulf of Mexico.
BP's claim that it is capturing 630,000
gallons a day in it's top hat pipe combined with new estimates from the
first high-definition underwater video released by BP yesterday support
a worst-case scenario estimate.
Ira Leifer, a University of California researcher and member of the Obama
Administration's Flow Rate Technical Group said that BP's
leaking Gulf oil well could be leeching BP's estimated worst-case flow of
100,000 barrels a day.
"In the data I've seen, there's nothing inconsistent with BP's worst case scenario," Leifer was quoted as saying.
100,000 barrels X 42 gallons per barrel = 4,200,000 gallons per day
turtles throughout the Gulf continue to nest, but in much lower n umbers
than observed at this time last year. The Incident Command released the
following sea turtle statistics today
322 total sea turtles verified to date within the “designated spill
272 stranded (dead or debilitated)
50 of the stranded were found alive
3 recovered alive but died in rehab
3 turtles released alive
25 live turtles in rehabilitation
To date, visible evidence of oil has been documented
externally on 28 live sea turtles and 2 dead sea turtle captured during
directed turtle surveys. Of the272 stranded, 55 full necropsies have been performed.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project on June 8th, 2010
Each year, the state of Texas and the federal government close shrimp fishing from the middle of May for two months. The shrimp grow bigger and then sell for more money. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are spared during their peak nesting season on Texas beaches.
This year, because of the oil spill and fishery closures in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, hundreds more shrimp boats could rush to Texas waters from other states in July when the closure ends. It could be a death sentence for endangered sea turtles unless every boat is equipped with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) that installed properly.
In April, 25 juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtles washed up dead in the Galveston, Texas, area in April when shrimping activity increased as it does each year. Law enforcement responded and on April 26, four of the ten shrimp boats boarded were found with TEDs not installed properly.
Increased law enforcement might prevent the injury and deaths of hundreds of sea turtles in Texas waters. Shrimpers who do not use TEDs correctly or disable them must not be allowed to fish in Texas waters. Both state and federal law enforcement officers as well as the Coast Guard must be present to board shrimp boats.
Yes, we feel sorry for shrimpers in Gulf states suffering from the effects of the oil spill, but that doesn’t give them the right to fish in Texas waters with TEDs that are not working right. The opening of the Texas shrimping season this year will be like none other and we’re not crying “Wolf.”
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on June 2nd, 2010
Today at least 222 sea turtles have been reported dead in the wake of the catastrophic oil
spill, and dozens more are being rescued and rehabilitated daily.
Concrete evidence of massive underwater oil plumes from two
universities mean an even greater threat to all sea turtles from oil in
"BP's cover-up of the true magnitude of the oil
spill likely reaches into many other aspects of the disaster, including
deaths to sea turtles. Sea turtles impacted by oil are lucky to make it
shore, and many are likely dying at sea." says environmental
toxicologist Dr. Chris Pincetich.
Scientist with experience on
the Exxon Valdez spill confirmed that many dead animals sink in the
ocean and only a fraction of the deaths could be recorded.
The Gulf of Mexico summers are characterized by hurricanes and declining water quality resulting in huge biological "dead zones" from nutrient inputs into the ocean. If these common conditions combine with the growing oil spill, the chances of survival for any marine life is sure to decrease, and hatchling sea turtles will be especially vulnerable.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on May 26th, 2010
Last night here in Houston, Texas, at a public forum organized by the True Cost of Chevron Coalition, I heard stories from women and men who had traveled for days before arriving for the Chevron shareholder meeting. I was rocked by their experiences, each one a bold sharing from courageous activists. Many of them put their own lives on the line to go public with what they know. I am here to speak for the voiceless sea turtle, while they are here to speak for their lives and those of their children, partners and families -- some of whom have been lost.
Mariana Jimenez is a 70-year-old grandmother of 27, mother of 7, and a campesina who settled in Ecuador's rainforest in 1971 when Texaco first started drilling in the Amazon region. She said that she represented 30,000 people displaced by oil operations in her country. She told about ponds turning black with oil, black smoke in her village and illness. I understood her even in Spanish because her anguish and determination were equally strong when delivering her message to Chevron to clean up. She lost her sister to cancer, two infant nephews to poisoned water and even her pigs have died.
Debra Barros Fince also shook the room with her description of the hardships and oppression she and other women face in Colombia due to an oil pipeline. In April 2004, her community was attacked by paramilitary forces and permanently removed. She is the Director of Wayuumunsurat and a lawyer representing the Wayuu people.
From Nigeria, Emem Okon fiercely explained how women in the Niger Delta suffer from oil operations and discrimination in rural communities. She organizes women to become active in protecting themselves from oppression, violence and environmental harm. The armed conflict in the region that has arisen after decades of oil company brutality has made things dangerous for everyone there. She is the Executive Director of the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre.
There are far too many stories to recap here, and I can't begin to tell them properly. But these and the other people who came from places in the U. S. and around the world made the horror of Chevron and other big oil's operations more real than ever before. This is not just a campaign or anti-oil hysteria. No matter what Chevron, the the corporate media or anyone else says in their denial or guilt, our use of oil in the U. S. is a cause of great pain and suffering.
Read some of their stories at the True Cost of Chevron website, http://truecostofchevron.com/
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on May 25th, 2010
Program Director Teri Shore and Gulf Director Carole Allen called on Chevron to stop harming people, the environment and sea turtles at a press conference in front of the oil company's headquarters in Houston. Josh Coates of Wilderness Society in Australia also took the stage to point out Chevron's harm to turtles, whales and sacred lands in Australia.
Carole gave out press releases to the camera people from various news stations that said: "Sea turtles and oil don't mix. It's time to stop building oil and gas facilities in sea turtle habitat." The Kemp's ridleys in Texas are in danger from the Gulf Oil spill while flatbacks in Australia are losing nesting beaches to the Gorgon natural gas plant. In Angola, Chevron is claiming to protect sea turtles from its operations, but activists in Angola say it is just PR. See our press release.
After statements from people from around the world, the crowd of 30 marched into Chevron's lobby demanding a meeting. Antonia Juhasz of Global Exchange requested a meeting with Chevron CEO John Watson. The company's Public Relations representative refused a meeting but listened to activists from Richmond, CA; Nigeria, Ecuador and Colombia demand an end to practices that are killing people, poisoning water and devastating forests and homelands.
Many will go to the Annual General Meeting tomorrow, while the rest of us will be rallying outside in turtle costumes. Our new No Drill, No Spill stickers were on display today and will be given out by the thousands at the rally!
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on May 24th, 2010
The Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program is vigorously cleaning endangered Kemp's Ridley juvenile sea turtles that have been coming in to the center covered in oil. At least 186 sea turtles and more than 60 birds have recovered dead or dying during the oil spill.
Experts studying the dead sea turtles that have washed up
on Gulf beaches still have little solid evidence that oil was to blame. The
majority of these dead sea turtles are juvenile Kemp's ridleys, who are
known to be regularly killed by commercial fishing operations.
"The oil spill is putting these dead sea turtles on the front pages,
but destructive commercial fishing practices kill nearly this many
Kemp's ridleys each year," states Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle
Restoration Project. " The combined effects of the timing of the oil
spill, the increased fishing pressure that immediately followed it, and
the toxic effects of the spill have us very worried about the entire
population of Kemp's ridleys."
BP's use of toxic oil dispersants has finally been stopped due to an order from the EPA. Millions of gallons of these toxic chemicals were applied both to the surface and deep underwater in an attempt to minimize the visible surface oil slick. Fish, corals, plankton, and all pelagic marine life were exposed.
Scientists and reporters are increasingly frustrated by BP's management of the spill response, with some claiming obstructive activities to open study and reporting of the disaster. Concerns also abound about our governments' response as well. Some choice examples of these concerns are below.
"The fact that NOAA has missed the ball catastrophically on the tracking and effects monitoring of this spill is inexcusable," said Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine conservationist who recently spent more than a week on the Gulf Coast advising Greenpeace. "They need 20 research ships on this, yesterday. This is probably turning out to be the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the most unique oil spill in world history."
Frank Muller-Karger, an oceanography professor at the University of South Florida who will be testifying before the House Energy Committee on Wednesday, said that testing for oil beneath the surface should be a top priority.
"I think that should be one of our biggest concerns, getting the technology and the research to try to understand how big this amorphous mass of water is, and how it moves," Dr. Muller-Karger said. "[The spill]It's like an iceberg. Most of it is below the surface. And we just have no instruments below the surface that can help us monitor the size, the concentration and the movement."
The struggle of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico is highlighted by the story that finds that an individual sea turtle, named #15, who was relocated out of an oil spill over 30 years ago has safely returned to nest again on Texas Beaches.
Thousands of juvenile Kemp's ridleys were transported out of the wake of the Ixtoc 1 oil spill disaster in 1979, which dumped millions of gallons of oil near the primary nesting beaches for Kemp's ridleys in Mexico. This one brave female sea turtle has been tracked to consistently return to nest in Texas, and once again she has been spotted in almost the exact location she was originally hatched and released from.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on May 12th, 2010
This blog post appeared on the Save Kimberley website:
Hundreds of Kimberley residents let their voices be heard in a colourful community rally in Broome in Northwest Australia this past Saturday.
The battle cry “Gas Free Kimberley! Save our community!” was heard from
the town oval all the way to the Civic Centre as the energetic group
marched with signs, banners, and even juggling clubs and wildlife
creations. A near life-size construction of a humpback whale led the
Former shire councilor, Chris Maher emceed the event, which included
presentations by Kerry Marvell, from Save the Kimberley, Martin
Pritchard from Environs Kimberley, Arnhem Hunter, and local traditional
owners Neil McKenzie and Joseph Roe. Musicians Kerrianne Cox, Wil
Thomas, Harry Jakamarra, Clint “Westwood” and Steve Pigram inspired the
crowd after speeches were made. The message was loud and clear that
it’s time for locals to stand up and be heard; the future health of our
unique home of Broome and the surrounding region is at stake.
As the Hands Off Country blog summarises, the advice to locals was as follows–
“The speakers … urged us to stay strong; to write to the Prime
Minister; make this an election issue; beware the social consequences;
understand what’s happened in the Pilbara; a wise warning about the
drug issues ‘without speed the Burrup would never have been built’; to
be informed; to ask questions; understand what real Indigenous
employment means; keep looking after country. The message was loud and
clear, no one here wants gas in the Kimberley.”
Posted by Maeve Murphy, Development Associate on May 4th, 2010
The increasingly dire reports on the devastating oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico are horrifying to those of us who care about marine
life and healthy seas. Meanwhile, another petroleum product, plastic, gets
fewer headlines but is slowly and insidiously polluting our beaches and oceans,
spoiling habitats and harming sea turtles and other marine life all over the
At best, discarded plastic on beaches and at sea is an
eyesore; at worst, it can be deadly to marine creatures, and works its way up
the food chain (and ultimately to us). And dumping at sea is not the main
culprit: some 80 percent of plastics found at sea were discarded on land.
Nature lovers and adventure travelers regularly report
their shock at the sight of piles and piles of discarded plastic bottles and
other petroleum-based detritus in the most remote, otherwise pristine beaches
and coasts on earth, carried there by wind and ocean currents. A bottle cap
that fell out of a garbage truck in San Diego can end up on a tiny, uninhabited
island in the Pacific in the decayed carcass of a baby albatross, which died
because its mother innocently fed it too much plastic it found floating in the
We have ALL contributed to this overwhelming problem, and
can ALL be part of the solution. What can you do? I'm saying no to more and
more single-use plastic items. I don't leave the house without my own shopping
bag, food takeaway containers and utensils (it look me a while to get in the
habit, but I got there). I buy bulk from grocers where available, bringing my
own containers (I haven't bought a new shampoo bottle for years).
Think about each single-use item you buy: is there a
reusable alternative? Do I really need this? Stand up to the social pressure to
always take the most 'convenient' option. Tell people why you are doing it. Be
part of the ever-growing movement that is rejecting single-use plastics. And if
we reduce our use of all petroleum products, hopefully the demand for drilling
will be reduced as well.
Our daily actions can have unimaginable consequences in
places we've never even heard of, and what seems convenient to us can be far
from convenient to many of the marine creatures we share the planet with. We
can all start being part of the solution.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 30th, 2010
On April 24, the 2010 nesting season of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle began at the Padre Island National Seashore when one nest was found. On April 29, nine Kemp's ridley nests were found on the Texas coast including four at Padre Island National Seashore and five on South Padre Island.
So far this year, 10 Kemp's ridley nests have been confirmed on the Texas
coast including (north to south in state):
Bolivar Peninsula 0
Galveston Island 0
Brazoria County, just north of Surfside 0
Surfside Beach 0
Quintana Beach 0
Bryan Beach 0
Matagorda Peninsula 0
Matagorda Island 0
San Jose Island 0
Mustang Island 0
North Padre Island 5, including 5 at Padre Island National Seashore
South Padre Island 5
Boca Chica Beach 0
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on April 29th, 2010
Plastic trash on beaches and in the open ocean is disrupting the normal nesting behavior of critically endangered leatherback sea turtles. For many years, we have been aware that these gentle giants regularly ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for the jellyfish that make up most of their diet. This video clip below documents a female leatherback struggling to dig her nest through plastic pollution on Matura Beach in Trinidad. Clearly, it is not just the current plastics we see on beaches that are a threat to wildlife, but also the accumulation of plastic bags, bottles, and bits intertwined into their habitat. Volunteers monitoring the leatherback nesting were able to remove the bottle so the nest could be dug deeper, but it bothers me knowing that plastic pollution is likely disrupting other nesting attempts by leatherbacks.
At the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, we are fighting locally to ban all disposable bags, regionally to ban plastic bags and removable plastic lids, and will be expanding our efforts internationally with the help of summer interns. Contact me to learn more.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is partnering with the Oceans movie release and leading actions to protect and save sea turtles on their website and on the Save My Oceans campus tour. Join us in taking the Oceans Pledge to 1) stop using disposable plastic bags and bottles, 2) stop eating endangered sea life, and 3) reducing your carbon footprint. These actions all contribute to saving sea turtles! Sea turtles choke on plastics, are captured and killed on swordfish and tuna fishing boats, and are losing nesting beaches due to global warming.
Only by taking personal direct action will we begin to turn around the current destruction of sea turtles and their ocean habitat. With our work at the Save My Oceans Tour stop we will spread these important messages and have fun doing it! Get involved! We can use your help at the UC Berkeley tour stop, which includes a recycled materials art installation, a concert featuring the Cold War Kids, and an advanced screening of Oceans. We’ll be activating college students to get on board with critical habitat for the leatherback sea turtle, stop the fossil fuel frenzy on Australian sea turtle nesting beaches, and cultivate a new generation of ocean advocates. If you can volunteer to help at UC Berkeley April 17 or April 20-22 for any of the events, please contact Chris Pincetich at chris at tirn dot net
A Cosco coal carrier wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has begun leaking bunker fuel and oil. Thousands of loggerhead and green turtles nest among the small islands and mainland beaches here. The ship is owned by the same company responsible for the massive bunker fuel spill in San Francisco Bay in October 2008.
The Age newspaper reported that: "the 230-metre-long ship carrying 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 65,000 tonnes of coal, was travelling at full speed when it hit a sandbank in a protected part of the Great Barrier Reef. Its fuel tank ruptured, causing a three-kilometre-long oil slick. Authorities stemmed the spill, but have warned that the salvage operation could take weeks, as moving the vessel will be a ''delicate'' operation that risks sending hundreds of tonnes of oil on to the reef." See the full story and photo.
And there is the 18,000 gallons of oil leaking in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico from a pipeline operated by Chevron Pipe Line Co. in sea turtle neashore habitat reported by Associated Press: "A crude oil spill covers about one-fifth of a remote national wildlife refuge near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and another 120 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico."
The Kemp's ridley nesting season is about to start any day now along the Gulf coast.
Yet everyone still wants to "drill, baby, drill" and build massive new fossil fuel projects all over the world. I personally won't stop resisting this insanity, no matter how politically "unrealistic" it is.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on February 28th, 2010
Two years ago in 2008 Conservation Volunteers Australia began to study the Australian flatback sea turtles that nest at EcoBeach, south of Broome on Roebuck Bay in the Kimberley. For the first time ever, staff and volunteers patrolled the beach during the peak nesting season for 40 nights in November and December. Volunteers trained and guided by CVA marine species manager Glenn McFarlane and his staff -- who are approved and permitted by the Western Australian government -- walked the 12 kilometers of beach from Jack's Creek to the new EcoBeach Resort night after night looking for flatbacks.
Over the past two years numerous nesting females were tagged for the first time and DNA taken to determine their lineage. And in 2009/10 satellite transmitters were attached to two turtles, both named Lucy, but that's another story. Where they go and what the DNA testing finds will shed light on the mystery of these Kimberley flatbacks that has never been known before.
While this uniquely Australian sea turtle has been nesting here for millenia, they were perhaps simply forgotten by the public and the world because it wasn't that remarkable. People had seen sea turtles nesting at Eco Beach, 80-mile beach to the south and the famous Cable Beach at Broome for as long as anyone could remember. It wasn't surprising or unusual to see a flatback or other sea turtle come up to nest or a clutch of hatchlings clamoring by when down at the beach to watch a sunset or campout.
So until now, there has been no long-term study to determine the status of this flatback population - or any in the Kimberley for that matter. CVA has stepped in thanks to the expertise and passion of Glenn who has spent years working with leatherbacks in Costa Rica. His leadership has also helped establish citizen science projects at Cable Beach and 80 Mile Beach to get estimates of these well-known, yet little understood marine turtles.
I was fortunate to be traveling in Broome when Glenn and his team went back to EcoBeach in February to exhume nests and assess success rates. Unearthing data loggers tracking sand temperatures was another primary task. So for three very hot, though blessedly windy, days we dug up nests, counted eggs and recorded our findings. The hard-working team dug by day and relaxed at night as guests of the EcoBeach Resort. One night we even had the privilege of swimming in the lavish pool that overlooks the beach and ocean.
Sadly, we found that many nests had been washed away. A full report on the season will be released by CVA in the near future. But what I learned from my days with Glenn, Jo and Kerry was that this was important ground-breaking work that will provide new science on the Kimberley flatbacks that will help protect them for the long-term.
Another reason I was there was to see the EcoBeach Retreat, an amazing low-profile accomodation and complex built (and rebuilt due to cyclones) by eco-businessman Karl Plunkett of Australia Eco Constructions. On a point of red rock above RoeBuck Bay and an incredible expanse of white sand and blue water, Karl has constructed an eco-vision with a touch of luxury. Humble, yet comfortable, brown two-to-four person safari-type canvass tents with room to stand(which have been ordered and shipped around the world) sit among the dunes and native grasses. More luxurious eco-villas with air conditioning are positioned on the rises with ocean views. Solar panels provide much of the electricity supplemented with low-emissions diesel generators. Being a skeptic about just about anything that's called "eco" now-adays, I was impressed with the overall commitment to green-ness by the EcoBeach Resort. I was also encouraged by the company's support and commitment to sea turtle protection.
The combination of sea turtle protection and comfort is just too good for an activist and traveler like me to pass up. So watch for details of an STRP-CVA sea turtle monitoring volunteer trip in December 2010 during the peak of flatback season!
Just after I left Mon Repos, the rains came in with high tides; the rain being the tail-end of Cyclone Olga. According to the local newspaper, the Courier-Mail:
"Wild weather has cost Queensland about 12,000 endangered baby loggerhead turtles. More than 100 clutches each containing about 125 eggs have been washed from nests at Mon Repos near Bundaberg after a pounding from high tides and big seas."
Hopefully the nests relocated to higher ground survived. More than 400 nests were laid this season, a new high since the low of about 100 nests 10 years ago.
Photo of flatback hatchling at Mon Repos by Carla Pereira.
Sea turtles lumbering onto the sand to lay a clutch of eggs is just the beginning. To protect and monitor endangered loggerheads at Mon Repos, the eggs are often relocated to higher ground. And all nests are dug up after hatchlings have emerged and run for the ocean to see how many eggs succeeded in producing another generation.
When it is clear that a nest is at risk of being washed away by the tides, we carefully remove the eggs either as the turtle is laying them, when possible, or immediately after the female fills in the egg chamber and returns to the sea. The egg chamber is shaped like a lightbulb with a narrower opening leading to a wider compartment. Here the eggs incubate for about 8 weeks, plus or minus depending on sand temperature and other environmental factors.
The relocation hole is dug by hand in the same shape to a depth of about 60 centimeters to mimic the natural nest and in similar sand. If the nest was laid in the open, the relocated nest must be in open sand. If laid under a tree, then so should the new nest.
This must be done immediately and no later than within 2 hours of laying to avoid damaging the embryo inside. Rotating an egg can kill it, particularly in the first 3 weeks. Even within the first 2 hours, rotation in any direction must be avoided. So each egg is treated gently and mindfully as it is moved. The eggs are laid out in rows for counting before relocation. When no suitable location is available for some reason, the eggs are moved to a close-by hatchery on the beach to mature. (In photo, volunteer researcher Maelie gathers a loggerhead's eggs for relocation to a safer nest.)
Keeping the eggs in the same order as they were laid is also important. In nature, it is more likely that males will be produced by the eggs first laid and last laid, as they tend to be on the edges of the clutch and slightly cooler than those in the middle. More females are produced with warmer temperatures. In fact, at Mon Repos, most of the hatchlings produced are females due to the darker sands and warmer temperatures. On islands off the coast in the Great Barrier Reef, male hatchlings dominate.
An interesting ritual of sorts occurs on Mon Repos when visitors guided by Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers are invited to help relocate the eggs. After counting, the bright white, round eggs are placed two-by-two from the original nest into the cupped hands of wide-eyed children and eager adults. They carry them in a short procession to the hands of a trained researcher who places the eggs gingerly into the relocated egg chamber. In silence and reverence, the 100 or so eggs are delivered into the safety of the dark sand and buried so they may grow into hatchlings.
Watch the new TV ad depicting the red rock and blue ocean that will be polluted and irriversibly harmed by Big Oil projects getting fast tracked by the government and corporations.
Oil and gas corporations want to build a huge industrial complex on the Kimberley coast near Broome - with reef blasting and dredging impacting on crucial habitat for dugong, turtles, and thousands of Humpback Whales who use the Kimberley coast as a nursery.
Photo by Rod Hartvigsen, Murranji Photography, http://www.murranji.com.au/
The number of South Pacific
loggerhead nests on Mon Repos have reached more than 400 this season, a new
high since the population was decimated by prawn trawls in the 1980s and 1990s. See the news story.
Historically, more than 3,500 females nested along the coast in and near Mon
Repos known as the Woongarra Coast. The numbers dropped to 350 per season due to capture in prawn trawls. The
use of TEDS that were finally mandated in 2000 has started to show results with
the new high for nesting females.
However this population, the
biggest in the Southern Pacific, has a long way to go. Researcher Colin Limpus
is expecting another decline in about 10 to 15 years because the juveniles and
sub-adults are being captured on high seas longlines and are dying in great
numbers from plastic ingestion – so there are very few “new recruits” to the
population. Another big problem is increasing coastal development and lighting
that is causing hatchlings to go off course and die in dunes, bushes and on
streets. So these endangered sea turtles are far from
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on January 26th, 2010
A quick summary of my turtle
experience so far! My first night on the beach was amazing! I'm at Mon Repos Sea Turtle Research Center in Queensland (near Bundaberg north of Brisbane) for a week.
The evening started
out slow and then loggerhead sea turtles started coming up the beach, one, two, three.
Fortunate for me they were low on experienced volunteers so all 5 or 6 of us
newbies were suddenly thrown into action . . . watching the sea turtle,
collecting the eggs from her hatch once she moved off, then digging them up,
moving to a safer nester further up above high tide line! I was just hoping to
see one, not get to be part of the hands-on research! And with groups of
tourists (20 to 30 people each) watching us “researchers” handle the eggs and
give them each one or two eggs to carry up to the relocated
We ended up staying on the beach
until 1:30 am (an hour past our shift) because the turtles kept coming! We saw 3
and then the other shift took over and “processed” another 3 or 4. Of course
this was really a low night – during the peak they have 40 or 50! I seemed to
do OK with the late night though I got tired at times. But when there was
action of course I perked right up!
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on January 20th, 2010
Prodded by seven years of litigation by conservation organizations, the National Marine Fisheries Services announced today a new measure aimed at protecting Hawaii’s false killer whales from the lethal impacts of the longline fishery.
The agency published a notice in the Federal Register on January 19, 2010 that formally establishes a “take reduction team” for false killer whales. The team will consider ways to reduce harm to false killer whales caused by commercial tuna and swordfish longline operations. Longline vessels trail up to 60 miles of fishing line suspended in the water with floats and as many as 1,000 baited hooks.
Approximately 60 whales were killed or injured in 2009 by the Hawaii longline fleet fishing for tuna and swordfish.
Creation of the team was the goal of the most recent litigation filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network, Hui Mälama i Koholä, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
TIRN/STRP Executive Director Todd Steiner and legal expert Andrea Treece from Center for Biological Diversity will join David Occhiuto for a conversation about the status of sea turtles a New York Public Radio Station WBAI. Learn more about the program here or read below for information from the radio station's website.
Our oceans are home to seven species of sea turtles. These wide-ranging and mysterious creatures are present throughout the world's tropical and temperate waters. Six of the seven turtle species are listed as threatened or endangered under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. The systematic pillaging of our fragile ocean ecosystem by high seas industrial longlining continues to inflict the most devastating impacts on sea turtles and other marine life. What are the real impediments to marine protection and restoration? How can progressive social and political forces work to ensure ocean eco-system restoration and real, enduring protections?
The leatherback sea turtle has become a harbinger for the overall health of the oceans and the survival of human society. Having survived dinosaurs and countless other species over the past 100 million years, the Pacific leatherback’s nesting population has declined by 95 percent since 1980, primarily as a result of industrial longline "fishing" (which occurs close to the surface where turtles spend most of their time), pollution, poaching of eggs, and the destruction of habitat by unchecked development. As a result, the near extinction of the Pacific leatherback can be seen as an exemplary case study of the drastic threats to our ocean environment, marine species and our own future.
Many of the island nations of the Western and Central Pacific have developed unique cultures interwoven with the ocean, fish and other living creatures that are crucial to their self-awareness of their place in the world, their origins, spirituality and unique socio-economic subsistence-based ways of life. The rapid depletion of not only large predatory fish but also associated species, such as sea turtles and cetaceans by industrial longlining threaten the very existence of their ways of life.
The Pacific Ocean has become a silent minefield of millions of hooks threaded along nearly invisible monofilament lines stretching far into the horizon. Each day, about 12,000 victims, including whales, dolphins, seabirds, billfish, sea turtles and sharks, are pointlessly injured and killed by these ocean mines. Longline fishing vessels cruise the surface for 25 to 100 kilometers spooling mainlines, floats, branchlines and hooks into the water. Between 500 and 3,000 baited hooks hang from the mainlines. Radio transmitters, light sticks, ribbons and other implements also may be added. All of this gear drifts overnight or all day in the ocean and is then hauled in along with everything that has been hooked or entangled on the lines. Although longlines are used to target a number of different fish species, they are most lucratively used to catch tuna, swordfish and shark. Because longlining has a low degree of selectivity, a significant and growing part of the catch of a targeted longline fishery is “bycatch” that is either thrown back, finned, or commercialized which puts additional pressures on already depleted fisheries.
Sea turtles are one of the non-target species most vulnerable to longlines. Some sea turtle species (such as loggerheads, olive ridleys and greens) swallow the longline bait and swallow the hook, or are caught in the mouth. Hooked or entangled, often held underwater by longline gear - unable to reach the surface to breathe - they drown. Those that are hauled up before drowning, if they are not killed or kept for meat, may be released with serious trauma and injuries making them vulnerable to being caught again later or dying from their wounds. The use of longlines in the US remained insignificant until a combination of factors — new permitting for swordfishing, technological advances in engine power and refrigeration, expansion of subsidies, credit and financing, and a ban on high seas driftnets longer than 2.5 kilometers — led many industrial vessels to switch over to longlining... (excerpts from: 'Striplining the Pacific: The Case for a United Nations Moratorium on High Seas Industrial Longline Fishing' published in 2005 by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project ). To download STRP's report 'Striplining the Pacific': http://www.seaturtles.org/article.php?id=769
With no action to curb greenhouse gas
emissions, could out-of-control sea level rise and warmer waters submerge the
famous mermaid in Copenhagen and allow sea turtles to summer in Denmark? Such a
scenario may not be that far-fetched. The new report Boiling Point by Turtle
Island Restoration Network (www.seaturtles.org) points out that climate change due to
global warming is a triple whammy for declining sea turtles. Climate change is
already taking a toll on the leatherback sea turtle in Costa Rica due to hot
sands and submerged beaches. And in places like remote Northwestern Australia –
close to the Timor oil spill, -- Chevron and other oil companies are destroying
flatback nesting beaches and building new fossil fuel projects that will add
millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans. 1. Rises in
ocean levels mean that sandy beaches where sea turtles lay their nests are
getting submerged under waves and water. This prevents adult sea turtles from
returning to the beaches where they hatched to repeat their ancient nesting
ritual. 2. Hotter sand temperatures result in mostly female sea turtle
hatchlings. Without enough males, the species cannot survive. And if the nest
sand is much too hot, no eggs will hatch at all. 3. Changes to ocean
currents, temperature and acidification are likely to throw sea turtles far off
normal migrations and alter food availability and abundance. These negative
impacts are magnified by the continued threats to sea turtles and human
communities from industrial longline and trawl fishing, coastal development, and
unsustainable direct harvest.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on December 11th, 2009
Yesterday, the US government announced it will loosen rules on the Hawaii Longline swordfish fishery, allowing more fishing effort and increasing the annual allowable number of loggerhead sea turtles that can be injured and killed by this fishery (for more info click here).
This action is a setback for the controls we have successfully fought for over the years that resulted in a ~ 4-year closure, followed by an eventual opening that limited fishing effort. Some changes we have fought for that will stay in place include a fishing closure for the year when the number of turtle interactions reach the ‘allowable’ cap, and gear changes that have reduced the seriousness of injuries that occurs from the ‘deep swallowing’ of hooks.
It appears the fishing industry is still calling the shots when it comes to protecting oceans and apparently human health too, since the target species, swordfish, is so highly tainted with high levels of mercury, the EPA has deemed it too dangerous for pregnant women, children or even women planning to become pregnant in the future to eat.
While lobbying by the fishing industry to loosen the rules started under the previous Bush Administration, we are extremely disappointed that the Obama administration has let these new rules go into effect.
We learned to expect these types of environmentally irresponsible decisions from the Bush Administration, but are we certainly ‘hoped’ for something better from the Obama administration.
Rest assured, we are not quietly accepting this attack on endangered sea turtles. Stay tuned for our next steps, which will be announced next week.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on December 7th, 2009
The East Bay Express (Berkeley, CA) just published an excellent review of campaigns targeting California-based Chevron corporation. See the article.
What's missing from the piece and the activists agenda are the eco-atrocities that Chevron is conducting in Northwestern Australia. However, it is not too late to stop most of the fossil fuel projects that are threatening the environment and community of the Kimberley and neighboring regions. STRP is joining with Australian groups who are leading the charge to stop the destruction of sea turtle nesting beaches and whale calving areas. Read more
Olive ridley sea turtle that washed up cold-stunned at Stinson Beach is treated at the Marine Mammal Center. (photo credit: Marine Mammal Center)
A rare and endangered olive ridley sea turtle, normally found along Mexican shores and southward, washed up on SeaDrift Beach in Stinson Beach, Marin County on Wednesday afternoon, November 25, 2009.
This is definitely a rare find, one of only three live olive ridley turtles I know of reported in the scientific literature since 2001 along the Central California coast.
The sub-adult female turtle weighed approximately 60 lbs and its carapace (top shell) measured about two feet. It was lethargic and cold-stunned when located and was initially transported to the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands where it was stabilized with fluids, vitamins, and precautionary antibiotics, and then onto SeaWorld in San Diego for further rehabilitation, where it currently remains in guarded condition. The turtle appeared malnourished and had algae, barnacles, crabs and shrimp attached, suggesting it had been floating for some time.
The Guardian newspaper has posted photos of marine life swimming through the oil spill in the Timor Sea in the north of Australia -- saturating one of the world's last ocean wilderness areas. See photos at:
Dolphins, migratory sea birds, sea snakes and turtles have been found swimming in one of the worst oil spills in Australia's history. As engineers launched a fourth attempt to staunch the 64-day old leak today, a large environmental group released a report warning that the slick, which is about 550km north of Darwin, is killing hundreds and possibly thousands of marine animals.
Satellite images show a 25,000 square kilometre slick spreading across the surface of the ocean and spilling into Indonesian waters, threatening the marine reserves of Ashmore and Cartier reefs.
Posted by Carole Allen on October 20th, 2009 Gulf Office Director
The Kemp's ridley nesting season on Texas beaches and Mexico's beaches has concluded. In a nutshell, the exciting news from Mexico is that 21,144 nests were found with one million hatchlings released into the Gulf of Mexico. You can get more information at http:///www.seaturtle.org/PDF'BurchfieldPM_2009_ReportontheMexicoUnitedStatesofAmer.pdf
It is important to remember that each female Kemp's ridley usually nests twice during the season and some nest three times which complicates the math on just how many ridley females are nesting each year. In addition, biologists vary on just how many of the one million hatchlings will survive to become adults. The numbers one of a thousand seem to be accepted, but with one million hatchlings making it to the surf, we can look for increasing numbers in the future.
The staff and all those who work at the Mexican beach nesting sites are to be congratulated for another year of hard work.
"The company responsible for an oil leak off the north-west coast of
Australia says the first attempt to plug the leak with mud and stop the flow of
oil has been unsuccessful.
It has been more than six weeks since oil
first started leaking from the West Atlas oil rig.
Australasia has been trying to stop the leak by drilling a relief well for the
past three weeks."
For more see
OIL SPILL "LIKE A SCENE FROM A DISASTER MOVIE" -
"Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard flew over
the West Atlas oil spill over the weekend. The flight from Broome headed to the
oil spill before heading off 30km due east and turning around to refuel at
“Seeing it first hand was a real shock, it was like something
from a disaster movie. The rig was billowing smoke and there was a sheen of oil
from horizon to horizon. We followed the oil for 30km due east and all you
could see from the cockpit was oil covering the sea, when we turned around the
slick was heading in an easterly and northerly direction towards Indonesia”
Mr Pritchard said.
“What we realized when we got to the rig was that the
slick appeared to be heading in a southerly direction which is a change to the
north-easterly direction of the last three weeks.
This is a real worry
if it’s now heading for the Kimberley coast” said Mr Pritchard.
very concerned that the Federal government is scaling back its efforts
particularly if the oil slick is now heading towards the Kimberley.
are particularly concerned because from what we saw there is still a massive
amount of oil coming from the well and we are not at all confident in the
Federal Minister for Resources Martin Ferguson’s assessment that less oil is
coming out. The government have admitted they don’t know what the flow rate
is so how can they know less oil is coming out? The photos we have show a huge
slick coming from the well” said Mr Pritchard.
The Kimberley coast is
one of the world’s most intact large tropical marine ecosystems with a coral
reef province of global significance. The seas in the area are known as a
‘marine superhighway’ because of the amount of dolphins, whales, turtles,
seabirds and fish found there.
Environs Kimberley is calling for marine
sanctuaries to protect Kimberley marine areas from threats posed by the oil and
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on September 28th, 2009
The oil spilling from a damaged rig in the Timor Sea above Australia's Top End is threatening sea turtles and whales. The Kimberly region in the northwest corner of the country is several hundred kilometers south of the spill where Australian flatbacks, hawksbills, and greens nest.
An Australian TV program recently highlighted the Kimberly region and its humpback whales, which have returned from near-extinction. It
is a stunning piece that gives you a short but memorable overview of
the whales, the people, the land and the nearby oil spill.
Recently, olive ridley hatchlings were found for the first time in Western Australia -- adding another sea turtle species that relies on this remote and wild coastal region. According to the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance , "the Bardi-Jawi Rangers had an extraordinary find recently--Olive Ridley hatchlings in Western Australia!
What makes this extraordinary is that WA is not a part the recognised range of Olive Ridleys as the species has never before been recorded in the west.
Further adding to the story, the hatchlings were reported to the Rangers by one of the Awesome Foursome Olympic rowers on a beach that had been closed by Traditional Owners to four wheel drive traffic to protect turtle nests."
Public Comment from the Ocean Task Force Hearing in San Francisco:
I am asking that the Obama administration give top priority in its Ocean policy to research and assist sea turtles, whose populations are decreasing at this alarming and unacceptable rate and whose ultimate peril or survival is effected by the same threats and protections that impact all the creatures of our seas.
Having survived cataclysmic changes to the earth for a continuum of 100 million years, the sea turtle is to me, the most articulate ambassador of the sea, and we will benefit most profoundly by giving her voice. We are offered a rare and perhaps fleeting opportunity to save thousands of species by focusing on one creature: the sea turtle.
-By studying the depletion of sea turtle populations, we will understand in greater depth and breadth, why our oceans are dying and how we can help them to recover.
Why study the sea turtle? Sea turtles shared the planet with dinosaurs, outliving climatic and other changes to the sea and earth that few species ever have. Its remarkable adaptability and resilience makes the sea turtle the ideal subject to study the foundational issues that threaten our oceans as well as the baseline legislation required to guarantee the barest survival of our seas.
What else makes the sea turtle the ideal subject of study?
1) First, they are among the easiest sea creatures to tag and monitor, and several committed organizations already have projects are underway, but are in need of assistance to continue and expand these studies. 2) Second, the sea turtle is migratory, and following their routes helps us to identify areas of the oceans that are most gravely effected by various threats and which are most in need of protection. 3) Third, the sea turtle is intimately effected by the major issues threatening our all sea creatures—over-fishing and destructive fishing policies and practices; biological, chemical, and consumer-related pollution; and over-development of coastal regions. By studying the impact of these and other threats to sea turtle populations in particular, we learn with the greatest possible ease and the least possible expense, how to protect and recover the ecosystems of oceans in general.
I ask respectfully and with urgency that you please make the study and rescue of sea turtles a very top priority in this administration’s ocean policy. Thank you for your kind attention and consideration.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on September 14th, 2009
The Cocos Expedition was a great success with 26 sea turtles (25 Pacific green "black" turtles and one hawksbill turtle) tagged with permanent flipper tags, nine of those tagged with acoustical tags and four with satellite transmitters. Additionally six hammerhead sharks were tagged.
You can watch the movements of the satellite tagged turtles by clickinghere and you can read the full expedition report here.
Three trips are planned for 2010, two of which are open to STRP members. To learn more click here.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on September 14th, 2009
Chevron's Gorgon project in Northwestern Australia south of Port Hedland is a disaster
for sea turtles which nest on Barrow Island. The project was approved by the Australian government despite opposition from environmental groups and its own environmental advisors.
Since Chevron has taken over the
existing oil drilling rigs on Barrow Island, environmental protection has gone downhill,
according to people who have worked there. Australian flatback sea turtles nest on the remote island and forage and breed in the surrounding waters. This rare sea turtle nests
only in Australia and is protected by the government. Yet that has not stopped the Western Australia government's new premiere Colin Barrett, a conservative, from giving it the green light.
The project is also dependent on very questionable carbon sequestration technology, where the excess CO2 from natural gas production will be pumped under the island instead of released into the atmosphere. This approach has never been proven to be safe or environmentally sound.
Up the coast in the
Kimberley, fossil fuel giants want to build even more dirty plants for natural
gas processing that would destroy a relatively intact eco-system. Chevron and the other oil barons need
to pull back. See more at www.seaturtles.org and
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on September 3rd, 2009
More diving, more turtles! We are now up to eight green turtles captured from four different dives sites around the island, though most are from Manuelita Garden, a protected shallow coral reef area. We have replaced our last “night dive with a 4th afternoon dive in Manuelita Garden, where we find turtles resting at 40-60 feet along the coral/sand margins. They appear curious of us and it is easy to capture them. The hard part of course is getting them (and ourselves) to the surface safely. We have developed a two-person method where one person grabs the turtle and directs him upward and a second person grabs the first diver, deflates his/her BC (buoyancy compensator) and controls ascent time and speed to the surface, where the turtle is passed up to someone in the skiff.
Once aboard the turtles are measured, weighed and tagged with permanent flipper tags and a small tissue sample is taken for genetic analysis. Some turtles also get one of the four satellite tags and/or nine acoustical tags we have with us. Satellite tagging involves an additional step of cleaning and drying the surface of the plastron (top shell) and gluing the tag onto the turtle with special epoxy. Acoustical tags are attached by drilling tiny holes at the margin of the carapace, and fastening the tag with zip ties. With this latest batch of turtles, we have three turtles outfitted with satellite transmitters and six with acoustical tags. We are saving our last satellite tag for a hawksbill turtle if we are lucky enough to find one!
Posted by Carole H. Allen, Gulf Office Director on September 1st, 2009
Sometime over the last weekend of August, an anonymous call was left on the STRP sea turtle hotline in the Gulf Office in Houston. A man's voice said that we "better lighten up on the endangered thing" and mumbled on about too many rules and regulations about shrimping and fishing. He sounded old, weary and maybe tired of struggling to make a living. Perhaps he hadn't heeded warnings about overfishing and reduction of wasteful bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico.
Obviously, the call was prompted by newspaper articles about two dead Kemp's ridleys that were found in a shrimp trawl near Galveston Island on August 1. Federal officials removed the turtles leaving the trawl to sink into the murky waters. NOAA law enforcement wanted the see that trawl and STRP supporters came up with $500 reward money to find who was responsible for killing the turtles. No one came forward so the reward went to divers who labored for hours locating it and getting it to the surface. The trawl itself points to those who may have cut it from the shrimp boat leaving two endangered sea turtles to struggle for freedom in vain and then die trapped at the bottom of the channel. The trawl may lead to the ones who are responsible and should face the consequences.
To the anonymous caller, the answer is, "No, we won't ever 'lighten up on the endangered thing.'"
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on September 1st, 2009
Shark Day—Lots of hammerheads at Big Dos Amigo and Alcyone, but none close enough to tag. The afternoon dive was at Silverado and two silvertips circled us repeatedly, sometime coming within 3 feet of me, obviously checking me out, as we hung out at their cleaning station. The larger of the two had a left pectoral fin with a significant bend in it… posiibly a past injury? A handful of jacks followed them around rubbing up against them, a
similar behavior I have been seeing between rainbow runners and white teip
sharks. On the way home, we found a downy brown booby chick floating in the open sea. Nonie scoped it up and the Park Rangers came later to take it to land. I don’t know its fate…
Meanwhile, the other team tagged its first hammerhead at Dirty Rock and Edwar caught three green turtles, an adult male (missing 1/2 of its right flipper), a female and a juvenile. We measured, weighed and tagged them, and brought them back to Dirty Rock for release before dinner. When we got there, three more greens were hanging at the surface, but we left them alone… for now.
After getting two of yesterday’s turtles weighed, measured and
transmitters attached, we’re off to Dirty Rock, a seamount named for
the large number of stains on the rocks from the nesting boobies who
make it their home. Our first early morning dive has me sitting at 110
feet with a gear gun, waiting for hammerheads to swim within 1 meter,
so I can collect a small biopsy for future genetic studies of the
sharks. Scores of sharks are swimming by and finally I aim and shoot
and hit the shark squarely on the mark—right below the dorsal fin. The
shark, startled by the prick takes off. Unfortunately, so does the
entire shaft holding the biopsy tip, as the retrieval wire breaks and
the shark swims off. With only a few minutes of air left, I return to
the panga slightly disappointed, but amazed by all the close encounters
with these magnificent and beautiful fish.
On the way back to the main
vessel, the Argo, we are accompanied by a pod of bottlenose dolphins…
I return on the next dive and search for the shaft unsuccessfully,
submerging to 130 feet, the maximum depth for diving with our special
mixture of oxygen & nitrogen. Dive three ends when I catch a 70 lb
female green turtle and deliver her to the panga.
I arrive in Costa Rica only to find that my checked luggage no longer contained the epoxy and sealant needed to attach the satellite transmitter to the turtles. Did it disappear in the US or Costa Rica? The mystery remains…Luckily, I had packed my most critical gear (transmitters, prescription mask, contacts) in my carry-on and there was time to track down the needed adhesives in Costa Rica before we left.
Diego Amorocho, a turtle biologist from Colombia was not so lucky. His checked luggage didn’t arrive at all, and he set sail with us without his clothes, or his dive gear…
We left Puntarenas sometime after noon, and the trip out proved to be a bit rocky. Several folks besides myself were feeling a bit queasy… the sighting of several humpback whale breaches though, lifted our spirits! Thirty hours later, right after dark, the engines faded to silence—signaling we had arrived! All feelings of seasickness evaporated and we would be diving in the morning.
1st Day at Cocos
What a day! Four green turtles captured. Three of the turtles get satellite transmitters, all four get acoustic receivers and permanent flipper tags. We also collect several white tip shark genetic samples. During the work, we encounter a ~25 foot whale shark, thousands of big eye jacks spawning with silky sharks swimming through the giant school, amorous male white tip sharks chasing females, dolphins, hundreds of marbled rays, and we still have time for a night dive, where we get to watch hundreds of white tip sharks feeding in a giant school. What more can I say…
We have several new participants and a few repeat volunteers. Two of the new folks include two old friends from college, Matt and Chris. Chris, aka “Happy,” is a surgeon and Matt is a dentist. After hearing the woes of losing our signal from the two turtles we put satellite transmitters on in March, and seeing our operation, their expertise clicked into gear, and discussions of using human surgical techniques of attaching plates to broken skulls, and the latest adhesion technology used in teeth have generated several alternatives we may try in the future. Not only do they have ideas, but they promise to use their connections with the company representatives to try to get us some free samples! And Matt also promises when he gets back to have his sail-maker friend make us a sling for moving big, heavy turtles from the “panga” to the main vessel where we attach the transmitters! This is exactly the kind of collaboration that makes my heart sore… people using their skills to help protection the oceans!
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on August 13th, 2009
Photo: Scott Benson, NOAA
A fisherman reported to Sea Turtles Forever in Portland, Oregon, that he had seen a giant leatherback sea turtle:
OREGON LEATHERBACK SIGHTING!
August 5th 2009, 6 miles due west of Newport,Oregon. Turtle was in 42 fathoms and water was 52 degrees. Below is the report from the NW Leatherback hotline.
Attn. Marc Ward, I was reading the ODFW marine fishing report and came across a request for information about sightings of sea turtles.
On August 5th while fishing for coho we came across a large animal floating on the surface. After the inital suprise or shock we realized in was a turtle. The animal stuck its head up and looked at us and then went on about its busness. We were traveling a couse due west of the mouth of the Yaquina River bar in 253 feet of water. The temp. reading on my instruments was 56.1 degrees. We passed it about 25 to 30 feet away but I would estimate it was over eight feet long and over four feet across its back. It did have raised ridges on its back so my quess would be it was a leatherback turtle. First time I have came across such an animal in many years of fishing off the Oregon Coast.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on July 27th, 2009
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project has sponsored a toll-free number for reporting sea turtles, nests, tracks and hatchlings in Texas for six years. This service proved invaluable on July 26. Tourists walking on Quintana Beach west of Freeport, Texas, saw 20 to 30 tiny hatchlings scrambling for the water. They remembered a number seen on beach signs, bookmarks and brochures and called 866-TURTLE-5. They were able to reach Shane Kassoon of the US Fish and Wildlife Service at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge not far away. He rushed to the scene and was able to find the nest where the hatchlings had emerged. It turned out to be the 196th Kemp's ridley sea turtle nest for 2009 breaking last year's record of 195 nests. This is the greatest number of nests since records were began in the early 80s. The 866 number made a big difference!
Although the “green” plankton-rich waters closer to shore are associated with the feeding congregations of whales sharks, a three-hour boat ride further offshore into the blue waters, finds us in the largest concentrations of animals. As many as 270 individuals have been seen in recent days, the largest concentration ever observed by Rachel Graham, Ph.D., who has studied the whales all over the world, and is here tagging the sharks and manta rays.
We find ourselves in a relatively small(?) aggregation, estimated at 60-80 whale sharks by our guide Abraham Jesus Kantun Amaro, whose energy and enthusiasm is simply amazing. I can see as many as six sharks at the surface looking straight ahead and can count up to 16 doing a quick 360 turn before I am lose track of whether I am double-counting.
So why are they here and not in the rich soupy green (and red-streaked) waters closer to shore? The water is apparently filled with “zillions” (that’s a scientific term) of nearly microscopic fish eggs. You can’t see them in the water, but you can find a few in your hair when you get out of the water. Later that night, Rachel Graham showed me a photo of a double handful she collected in a plankton net they towed for just three minutes!
Rachel and her team are not the only scientists and/or conservationists here to witness this incredible spectacle, besides our group (which includes US National Marine Sanctuary folks, and myself from Turtle Island). Overhead a National Geographic team is taking aerial photos, and last night we met folks from Dr. Sylvia Earle’s Deep Search Foundation, and folks from the International League of Conservation Photographers at dinner.
We are all blown away by what we have seen, but I keep reminding myself that that a vast array of life existed in the ocean everywhere (even right where you live!) in the days before industrial fishing, massive habitat destruction and uncontrolled pollution.
It’s great to know there is so much concern and support for this incredible place and its amazing marine inhabitants, like the whale shark, listed as threatened by the IUCN. That is what it is going to take to take to save this remarkable marine oasis—and restore the ocean ecosystems on which we all depend.
The attraction to Holbox is whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, the world's largest living fish. How Big Are They? While stories of whale sharks as large as 70 feet or more exists, the largest verifiable record is 40 feet with an approximated weight of 30,000 pounds. Most of the ones we saw were probably closer to 20 feet, and we may have seen one approaching 30 feet.
Little is known about this gentle giant, but studies are now under way in many places where they are found to aggregate including off the coast of Belize, the Yucatan of Mexico, and Honduras. Tagging, photo identification, and placement of satellite transmitters are the tools now being used to unravel the mysteries that surround this animal, and will allow us to understand their migrations, their population status and their behavior.
But the rich planktonic waters attract other filter feeders too. Out in the waters made green and red by different species of plankton, we found dozens of giant manta rays, Manta birostris, many with wingspans exceeding 12 feet, and schools of Cownose rays, Rhinoptera bonasus, a small ray that seemed to be flying through the water in formation. Devil rays, Mobula mobula,r looking a lot like smaller versions of mantas were also abundant. The guided experience inside the marine protected area was very nice. Our guides, licensed by the Mexican government were very conscientious, making sure no one touched a whale shark and preventing visitors from coating their bodies with sunscreen that could harm the marine wildlife. The Park Guard boat was present numerous times, and though carrying US researchers, its presence no doubt kept visitors on their best behavior.
But on our second trip out, no Park Guard vessel was present, and some tourists could be seen touching and even "riding" the whale sharks. Our guide informed us that those boats were not licensed, and not from Holbox, but had come from Isla Mujeres or possibly from Cancun.
Another problem-more than one whale shark was seen to have a ragged dorsal fin, probably the result of propeller cut. Too many boats and too many visitors is an issue that will have to be carefully monitored and controlled to ensure the safety of the marine species.
I'm here in Holbox, an island just north of Cancun, Mexico. In the past 5 years it has become a prime destination to view the largest fish in the world, the incredible whale shark. Growing to 40 feet, these gentle giants are amazing beautiful blue-grey with white polka-dots covering its entire upper surface that look like they were dabbed on by a talented artist. These placid plankton feeders arrive every summer to feed offshore on a migration that researchers are still trying to unravel.
Thanks to the efforts of shark conservationists (and the large number of sharks available for viewing), the rules for whale shark eco-tourists are strict and appear to be relatively well enforced. The animals gracefully feed at or near the surface in the rich soupy-green waters, and the rules allow only two tourists to snorkel (no scuba) around a single whale shark at any given time, (but no closer than 6 feet) with no touching of the animals allowed.
Yet the island itself seems like it is being transformed from a sleepy fishing village into a major tourist destination with construction everywhere. (Note, this is my first visit to Holbox, so this is mere speculation, but based on my observations from other places). Watch for more observations as I continue to explore.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on June 27th, 2009
It appears that the 2009 nesting season of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles on the Texas coast is over. But there is still work to be done. From now on, weaker live ridley hatchlings released in Mexico or at Padre Island National Seashore may wash up and strand on beaches on the upper Texas coast. The first live stranded ridley hatchling was found struggling in the surf on Sunday on June 21. He is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the NOAA Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston. Last year, more than a dozen of these stranded hatchlings were found, so residents and tourists are asked to continue watching for sea turtles when walking on the beach. From now on, the turtles may be very tiny ones. To report a hatchling sighting, call 866-TURTLE-5.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on June 25th, 2009
I just saw a preview showing of "The Cove," and this film is going to make giant waves when it hits theatres this August. So don't miss it! This film is much more than a documentary, and if the story wasn't all true, you might think you were watching a great spy-thriller suspense film. But it is reality, and this film documents a horrific dolphin slaughter in Japan that has gone relatively unnoticed for years. And it uncovers the mislabeling of mercury-laden dolphin meat being harvested and sold in Japan to unsuspected consumers who don't know that what they are buying is toxic, or the fact that the meat is tied to a horrendous slaughter and a multibillion dollar industry.
And if that wasn't enough, this film also tells this story through the work of Ric O'Barry, the trainer of the most famous dolphin of all, the TV star "Flipper" of the 1960s, and his personal transformation from dolphin trainer to dolphin activist.
Lastly of course, this film is being distributed by the same folks (Participant Media), who helped to assure that Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," led viewers to take social action to improve the world. In this case, it is sorely needed to end a tragedy that is blight on human history.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on June 23rd, 2009
So building a massive LNG plant in flatback sea turtle territory on the northwest coast of Australia will cause no harm to wildlife? That's what Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett says confidently in this 60 Minutes report from Down Under. He makes this proclamation even as the reporter investigating efforts to protect the Kimberly is greeted by sea turtles, crocodiles and big groupers when touring the threatened region. Perhaps he is following the Bush approach - it's true if he says it is so.
I visited the Kimberly more than 20 years ago and never forgot the red of the Bungle Bungles, the rusty rivers, the saltwater crocs. Eco-tourism and adventure trips have taken hold in Broome where pearling and fishing still hang on. Sadly, the aboriginal people are mostly living in third-world conditions like so many do in their own country. And now it's an LNG plant that will save the day.
Recently, I toured the Pilbara region to the south to get an eyewitness view of where LNG plants, mining ports, salt mines and industrial facilities have already taken over the coast. The small towns are dustry and neglected,the larger ones seem pleasant enough until you spot the gas flares and mining ports. A metallic tasted formed in my mouth in one iron-ore town and never left until I did.
Yet sea turtles still seem to manage to nest and forage along this industrialized coast. But spreading this same industry into the relatively untouched Kimberly is too much for a decade or two of natural gas. It's a vision that will end an ancient legacy of which the flatback sea turtle is part.
Sea Turtle Restoration Project and its parent Turtle Island Restoration Network are joining forces with Australian groups to call for a moratorium on development in the Kimberly until a full conservation strategy is in place and sea turtle protection is assured. See our comments.
Now is the time to Put Your Hand Up for the Kimberly on this interactive petition and map from the Wilderness Society of Western Australia.(Scroll down page.)
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on June 9th, 2009
If you haven't planned your summer vacation yet, consider visiting the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. The first public release of Kemp's ridley hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico has been held and there will be more to follow. Don't miss this marvelous opportunity to see the result of 30 years of work in Mexico and the United States to prevent the extinction of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Yes, you'll need to get up early and get to the beach, but it's worth it when you see the tiny hatchlings make their way toward the water leaving tiny tracks in the sand. The releases aren't held every day so you will need to allow a few days in the area to make sure you are there at the right time.
Go to the National Parks Service website: http://www.nps.gov/pais/naturescience/releases.htm and read the advice given there before you make your plans to travel.
On Thursday, we filed a lawsuit to compel the U.S. government to act on a petition we filed more than a year ago to create critical habitat for Pacific leatherbacks along the California and Oregon coasts and uplist the Pacific loggerhead from threatened to endangered. We had to do this because the government has failed to act -- even after we gave them several months of extensions beyond their legal duty to act within a year, missing deadline after deadline. Instead of action, all we got were excuses, so we figured it was time for a federal judge to step in and order the government to take action.
We also wanted to put pressure on the Obama administration to begin to pay attention to the crisis our ocean face from overfishing, pollution and climate change. If we are to save the Pacific loggerheads and leatherbacks, the Obama administration needs to change the current course that was set by former President Bush. Otherwise, we will lose these magnificent animals in our lifetime, and leave our children with a dying planet.
So what do I make of their criticism of this important film? Here is the response I posted, which may or may not be approved...
Glad to hear that you saw the film,
as supermarkets have a vital role to play in the recovery of our
oceans. The dinner plate is many people’s most tangible connection to
the ocean. It is time (in fact long-overdue) for the public to be
exposed to the hard realities of what is happening on our oceans.
90% of the world’s stocks of large predatory fish stocks are gone!
80% of the world’s REMAINING fisheries are fully to over-exploited,
depleted, or in a state of collapse! Scientists predict the end of
commercial fishing by 2048 if things don’t change. It’s shocking. And
people need to know what is happening, and that they can make a
difference simply by eating lower on the seafood chain and avoiding
IMHO, asking End of the Line to also “tell the story” of the one of
the few fishery recoveries reminds me of the press’ flawed coverage of
global warming (where “balanced” coverage actually resulted in
inaccurate coverage and the misrepresentation of the facts). With
global warming, the journalistic norm of balanced reporting gave the
impression that the scientific community was divided on whether or not
humans were contributing to global warming, when in fact the evidence
was clear we were. Likewise, your desire for End of the Line to show
more “fairness” or “balance” or “accuracy” by including information
about fishery recoveries strikes me as a sneaky way to introduce
ambiguity into the issue. Suggesting that fishery recovery is common or
that it could take place on a widescale under current fishery
management systems is immensely misleading.
As we begin to pay the price for the “balanced coverage” that helped
delay efforts to cut carbon emissions, can’t we just skip the “debate”
this time and get to work to address overfishing? For example, even
Atlantic swordfish was not saved by “telling both sides of the story.”
It was saved in a large part by public awareness of the plight of
swordfish, a boycott by prominent buyers, restaurants, and consumers,
and public pressure for better management. I can only hope End of the
Line will spur similar efforts.
In the meantime, helping Whole Food customers eat lower on the
seafood food chain, avoiding over-fished species, and eliminating
seafood that results in the bycatch of sea turtles, whales, dolphins is
a powerful solution to this problem. Whole Foods needs to re-consider
its seafood policies and support efforts it has opposed in the past,
such as when you refused to carry turtle-safe shrimp. While Whole Foods
may have better seafood policies than other large supermarket chains,
that is of little consequence when all that means is you are last in
the race to the bottom, a bottom that is a world without fish.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on May 11th, 2009
The new ocean film "End of the Line" is the "Inconvenient Truth" of the oceans. The movie is not just another doom-and-gloom diatribe but an emotional and beautiful truth-telling that may just stimulate a worldwide movement to save our seas. I hope.
When I watched a preview copy at home the other night, I got angry, I cried, I lost hope, I regained hope, I've been talking it up since. End of the Line predicts the end of seafood by 2048 if the rush to fish out the seas for sushi and seafood platters doesn't slow, and soon. Here in the SF Bay Area, we'll be screening it at the Cal Academy of Sciences on June 11 (not posted yet).
Everyone who cares about the ocean -- and those of us who just don't know what's happening -- must see it when it opens on Ocean Day on June 8 or when it rolls out over the rest of the year.
You'll see magnificient bluefin tuna trapped by wide dams of netting across the Straits of Gibraltar. And the fishermen who are heartbroken by the demise of the fishery.
The story of cod is re-told with footage of enraged and devastated seamen who can't go on.
The researchers and biologists show Gore-like graphs of fishery
declines of every possible species: tuna, swordfish, shark, rock fish,
you name it. Only the jellyfish and shrimp survive.
The British film is based on the book End of the Line by Charles Clover
and features Canadians, Europeans, Americans, and Indigenous fishers
whose small outboard fishing boats are eclipsed on the water by factory
As with Climate Change, so far we've seen lots of talk but little action about the decline of the world's fisheries and the demise of our oceans. And like global warming, if we don't act soon, the ocean may never recover from industrial high-tech fishing and mass consumption of disappearing wild fish.
What to do? Please go see the film. Lobby your local theaters to show it. Take our Seafood Pledge to stop eating tuna, swordfish and shrimp. Or why not start a movement at home, at school, at work, when dining out, to Give the Oceans a Break and don't eat any seafood until the insanity stops. If you can do it, maybe I can too.
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on May 5th, 2009
The U.S. State Department has banned Costa Rican shrimp from being shipped into the U. S. The shrimp embargo came after our Costa Rican sister organization PRETOMA, documented Costa Rica has consistently failed to enforce laws requiring shrimp fishing vessels to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and the threat of a lawsuit by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
More than 15,000 turtles may be caught each year by Costa Rica’s shrimping fleet. Proper use of TEDs reduces the number of turtles caught in shrimp nets by 90% or more and is required to be used by any shrimp fishery that sells to the U. S.
TIRN is evaluating this positive move by the US Department of State as it relates to moving forward with its 60-day notice of intent to sue.
May 2 was a great day for Kemp's ridley sea turtle watchers. Everyone has wondered if Hurricane Ike's damage to the upper Texas coast beaches would be a hindering factor to nesters. Saturday, May 2, dispelled the doubt somewhat. Two Kemp's ridley nests were found on west Galveston Island beaches, one containing over 100 eggs. A satellite attachment was placed on one of the turtles before she was released that evening. Being able to track the movements of a turtle that has just nested is extremely important. Dr. Andre M. Landry, Jr., of Texas A&M University at Galveston is in charge of the patrolling prgoram along the upper Texas coast and although optimistic, he says it is still too early to tell what the nestings season will be like. One of the nests was found by Sharla Knoll, a long time sea turtle advocate and volunteer, who has walked hundreds of miles along the Galveston area beaches looking for tracks or sea turtles. A total of 48 nests have been found on the entire Texas coast so far this year, slightly behind last year's records.
As the young and old residents of television's favorite - and recently revived - zip code 90210 heated up the screen in last night’s episode with their relationship dramas, the topic of mercury poisoning made a surprise appearance. In between complaining about her dad’s dubious antics, her on again off again pseudo boyfriend, and the sudden appearance of her big sis, bad girl Naomi protested to her friend’s mom she was going to get mercury poisoning from all the fish she was feeding her. When an issue finally “makes it” in the world of Hollywood and gets an appearance on one of its hottest television shows you know millions of viewers will be getting the message. Let’s hope we see this serious public health concern continue to make it on the big screen in the future to help spread the word of the risk for mercury toxicity from consuming too much of the wrong seafood.
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 30th, 2009
blog post comments?
Victory! The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
has ordered a 6-month emergency closure of the bottom longline fishery in the
Gulf of Mexico to protect sea turtles from injury and death. Unfortunately, the
scenario leading up to the closure, mirrors the same pattern environmentalists
have faced for the past eight years: action was not taken until after Turtle
Island and other groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the carnage from
Nearly a month ago, environmentalists presented NMFS
with its own data indicating that the fishery was catching loggerhead turtles at
more than eight times the number of sea turtles authorized previously in a 2005
biological opinion and the government was failing to act as it is required under
the Endangered Species Act. When NMFS failed to act, we went to Court. Only
then did NMFS agree to close down the fishery while it tries to solve the
This issue came to a head while the Obama
administration was still putting together its new team at NMFS and its parent
agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While the
environmental community has strong hopes that the newly appointed head of NOAA,
Dr. Jane Lubchenco, will chart a new course for ocean protection, the jury is
What we do know is that the powerful seafood and
fishing lobby hasn't gone away, and we will need to continue to be vigilant and
vocal to convince the new administration to create a sustainable ocean
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 29th, 2009
Before the last administration left office, a measure was introduced that was so incredibly unacceptable that I couldn't believe what I was reading. If it had passed, important decisions could have been made regarding projects involving endangered plants and animals WITHOUT the federal agency consulting scientists. Well, thanks to all of you who read my blog of Feb. 15 asking for support of a House Joint Resolution to strike down this ridiculous proposal and contacted your US representatives.
Today, April 29 is a glorious day for the Endangered Species Act and for all of us! Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are reinstating the consultation provision under the Endangered Species Act.
Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal
wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration before taking any action that might affect
threatened or endangered species. The Interior Secretary has until May 10 to reverse rulings that would restrict protection for the polar bears. We know that President Obama approved the changes to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and we need to thank him and your representatives for stopping this last-minute effort to damage the ESA. Now, let's help the Polar bears!
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on April 26th, 2009
A series of severe storms in the Houston area on the weekend before Earth Day forced the cancellation of one major Earth Day event, but, thanks to many volunteers, the word about patrolling for sea turtles on the Texas coast reached thousands of people!
With tables at the Houston Zoo, North Harris County College, the Moody Gardens in Galveston and an Astros "Green Game," thousands of bookmarks were distributed and donations collected to replace STRP sea turtle signs washed away by Hurricane Ike. In addition, Deborah Wilson of Houston greeted hundreds of volunteers in Galveston on Sunday, April 26, involved in the Spring Beach Clean-up sponsored by the Texas General Land Office. She had spent Earth Day evening at the Astros game with her family at the STRP table.
Girl Scout Troop 10319 of the Cypress-Tomball area stayed at the Houston Zoo until the severe weather forced them out on April 18. The only event totally washed out was at The Woodlands, a city north of Houston. Thanks are in order for every volunteer who worked or tried to get to a site in spite of the weather! We know that Mother Nature always has the last word. Meanwhile, 20 Kemp's ridley nests have been found at the Padre Island National Seashore and beaches to the south in Texas!
Income Tax Day brought some good news to Texans! The first three Kemp's ridley nests were documented at the Padre Island National Seashore. Last year 195 nests were found on the Texas coast and we can now start to count! Patrols are out all along the coast including the upper Texas coast where Hurricane Ike slammed into the beaches removing sand and dunes. Although much sand has been replaced, it is a different landscape for sea turtles.
The nesting season will be a subject of discussion at numerous Earth Day Events beginning April 18. STRP will have volunteers at tables in four counties and an Astros Baseball team "Green Game." Bookmarks and literature will be distributed at the Houston Zoo, The Woodlands Earth Day, Migration Celebration at the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, Moody Gardens in Galveston, North Harris County College and Minute Maid Park in Houston. It's our biggest year for spreading the word about Kemp's ridley sea turtles and all the sea turtles of the Gulf of Mexico.
Todd Steiner, STRP Executive Director, attaches a satellite beacon in the Cocos Islands
I have just completed an incredible 10-day sea turtle and shark tagging expedition to Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica. Located 550 km off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island was declared a Costa Rican National Park in 1978 and was designated a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1997 and is best known for the large number of sharks and other pelagic species found there.
Working with our sister organization PRETOMA in Costa Rica, we succeeded in outfitting two endangered green sea turtles with satellite transmitters and attaching four acoustical tags on hammerhead sharks. This research will increase our knowledge base so that we can best design recovery and management plans for this amazing endangered species.
In a few days, we will have a map up on our web site so all of our members can track the movements of the turtles. Stay tuned. We may be planning another expedition for this fall. If you are an experienced scuba diver and would like to participate as a volunteer research assistant, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know! (The approximate cost is ~$5,000).
Posted by Karen Steele, Campaign Coordinator, GotMercury.org and Michael Milne, Campaign Coordinator, Sea Turtle Restoration Project on March 30th, 2009
The 2nd annual Oceans Day was held in the California State Capitol last Wednesday. This is a day when environmental groups from across the state converge on California’s legislators in Sacramento to educate and lobby for their support on the many issues that effect California’s beautiful ocean.
The day started with meeting up with our lobby teams at 7.30am to strategize and finalize the plan for the day. Then it was off to meet with the legislators and/or their staff. At least four lobby teams met with over 25 legislators along the course of the day.
A variety of issues were discussed including gathering support for the string of Marine Protected Areas that are being planned and developed along California’s coast, plastics in the ocean, global warming, ocean pollution and our own legislation, AJR 8.
We focused our efforts for STRP on protecting both people and marine animals. Michael lobbied for support on a petition to the federal government to ban swordfish imports from international fisheries that do not meet the same standards for protecting marine mammals as followed by U.S. fisheries. Through the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) it is a law that all imports of fish to the U.S. come from fisheries that adhere to the same standards as outlined in the MMPA. This has not been enforced for over 35 years and we think it is time the government took seriously our environmental laws and standards we have established.
Karen lobbied for greater protection of public health from the risk of toxicity from mercury-in-seafood. We would like to see California implement mandatory warning signs at points-of-sale for all seafood that is known to contain high levels of mercury. In addition we want to see a program implemented that regularly tests seafood for mercury levels – right now this very rarely happens. As a result fish is being sold to the public with exceedingly high levels of mercury – independent testing reported on KTLA Los Angeles just a few weeks ago found all but one sample of swordfish tested was over the FDA action level, and one sample was over 4 times this!
Overall the day was rewarding and a lot of fun. It ended with a great celebration of our oceans with an inspiring talk by Jean-Michael Cousteau, award presentations to recognize ocean heroes, and a spectacular screening of Under the Sea 3D. It was great to see so many people descending on the State Capitol to speak up for our oceans. We’re already looking forward to next year!
Just a few years ago, Galveston city and county officials didn't think about the nesting season of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle as spring approached the island. But things have changed. For the last two or three years, permission has been given for signs to be put on public beaches advising tourists and residents to call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if a sea turtle, tracks or hatchlings are seen.
An article in the March 29 issue of the Houston Chronicle points out further proof that people in high places are concerned with the sea turtles. Last June, workers started to build a ramp to the beach for anyone in a wheelchair. Before it was completed the ramp was torn up by Hurricane Ike. Workers began again to build the ramp for this tourist season. I was very pleased to read that "They also erected fences to protect Kemp's ridley sea turtles from wandering onto the construction site."
Thank you to everyone in Galveston who care about the endangered sea turtles that have returned at last.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on March 22nd, 2009
After the sea turtle symposium in Brisbane, I spent a week at Mon Repos -- a famous sea turtle beach near Bundaberg. There I helped Colin Limpus and his team of volunteers monitor and release loggerhead and flatback hatchlings. This is the most important nesting beach for Pacific Loggerheads in the Southern Pacific. While the females were mostly done with nesting, the hatchlings were emerging by the hundreds.
Colin has been marking and tagging hatchlings and female adults since the 1970s. The first hatchling to return as an adultclimbed onto the beach in 2003 at 29 years old. Sadly, the population was devastated by prawn trawlers, falling from 3,500 females to about 350 per year. That is beginning to turn around with the requirements for Turtle Excluder Devices in 2000.
Instead of sea turtles, it is a land of wombats, wallabies and wonderful ancient landscapes and trees that date back to the supercontinent of Gondwana. But amazningly, leatherback sea turtles have been tracked to the coast of Tasmania, where the water is cold and the winds blow at gale force.
Following this adventure, I took the bus to Hobart where the Sea Shepherd Society's vessel, newly christened the Steve Irwin, was in port after its season combatting Japanese whalers. The ship managed to block or slow whaling for about 5 weeks, with the Japanese fleet going on the attack to try to dissuade the "whale warriors." On return to port, the Australian government raided the Sea Shepherd vessel, though it took no action against the illegal Japanese whaling.
But that didn't stop the crew from offering help in saving the many pilot whales who stranded on an island north of the mainland. Amazing dedication, whether you support the Sea Shepherd tactics or not.
While touring the vessel with crew member Dan of Hobart , I asked what they were doing to minimize the environmental impacts of the shipon the ocean and learned from Engineer Dan that fresh water was being used as ballast (preventing spread of invasive species), that the old engine was running on marine diesel instead of bunker (less air pollution) and that new heads were being installed to "cook" waste matter to kill off bacteria and other contaminants being going overboard.
Speaking of cooking, I discovered that Green activist Nicola from Fremantle, who I met in 2007, is now cooking on board the Steve Irwin and was a crew member during the whaling campaign this year.
I really appreciated meeting the crew and in particular am grateful to Ben, the vessel manager, who arranged for the private tour since I was leaving town before the public tours were happening (and which have drawn thousands of supporters every weekend).
Years ago, Edward Humes, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, called Carole Allen (me) in Houston and asked what I had done and continued to do to save the Kemp's ridley sea turtles from extinction. After a long phone interview, weeks, months and years passed with no further contact. Frankly, I forgot all about it. A few weeks ago, I learned that Mr. Humes has published a book entitled Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers and Millionaires Who Are Saving our Planet. Chapter 13 in the "Lone Wolves" section tells my story in "The Turtle Lady" chapter. (I'm either a dreamer or a schemer but not a millionaire.) Of course, the original turtle lady was the late Ila Loetscher of South Padre Island, Texas, who first endeared sea turtles to the hearts of the nation by appearing on Johnny Carson's television show. She traveled with a small green sea turtle complete with a tiny sombrero and serape and was a very big hit.
Shortly after learning about the book, the Oprah Magazine contacted me and has included a brief story in the April 2009 issue.
Both the book and the article imply that my work for sea turtles concluded years ago which is far from the truth. Vigilance and action for an endangered species never ends. Law enforcement in the Gulf of Mexico continues to be needed to make sure shrimp trawls have turtle excluder devices properly installed and working. The battle goes on to convince the state of Texas to declare a sanctuary in Texas waters to protect nesting Kemp's ridleys at the Padre Island National Seashore. The campaign to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the upper Texas coast as critical habitat for the Kemp's ridleys continues along with the need for renourishing of beaches following the damage done by Hurricane Ike. The publicity is great only if it benefits sea turtle conservation.
As far as I'm concerned, films about sea turtles are a "no brainer." These mysterious ocean voyagers have an amazing story to share with landlubbers and terrestrial species. Learn more about sea turtles, or spend a short time swimming with them, and you'll want to help these ancient creatures overcome the perils of the modern world. You'll want them to survive.
There are documentaries like Last Voyage of the Leatherback and Disney's "Finding Nemo" that included Crush, a Sea Turtle Duuuude! who surfed the ocean's currents, but not one feature length film that has hit the mainstream theaters. Why hasn't a feature length film introduced the masses to sea turtles? I have no clue, I'm speechless, I just don't get it. That, however, may finally be about to change!
Turtle: The Incredible Journey, which tracks the journey
of a loggerhead turtle across the Atlantic Ocean, has scored a wide release in England and may becoming to a theaters in the U.S. next year.
The star of the film is a loggerhead named FeeBee that was released off
the Florida coast in 2008 as part of a project led by one of the
world's leading turtle biologists and the film's key science
consultant, Professor Jeanette Wyneken from the Florida Atlantic
For many people, their most tangible connection to the ocean is through their dinner plate. Thankfully, many people have learned that their choices of what to eat are not a trivial connection, but are a critical part of restoring the ocean's health. With that in mind, one of the most common subjects of emails I receive from our members goes something like this...
"I signed the pledge to not eat tuna and shrimp caught by long line fishery. Now please tell me, I live no where near an ocean, how do I know how a tuna or shrimp is caught? (we never see swordfish here) Is there one brand that I should be watching for, good or bad?"
Simple question, right? Is there a simple answer?
Nope! The best way to be sure of how a tuna or shrimp is caught is to do it yourself... Plan B is to ask the market where you buy your fish who they got it from, where it came from, and what fishing methods were used. Chances are your local market gets it from a seafood distributor and the market doesn't actually know. If a market doesn’t know how their fish is caught, avoid it. If your
feeling up to it, tell them you will only buy fish if you know where
and how it was caught. But they might, and if they do, take that information and find it on a seafood guide. Try SeafoodWatch. I would avoid all fish on the yellow and red list and ONLY eat fish listed as green—it’s a good rule of thumb. Also, fish
certified by the Marine Stewardship Council is generally “sustainable.”
A quick word about seafood cards... seafood guides attempt to move seafood lovers in the right direction and they are useful. But to date, no single list incorporates a holistic view that encourages consumers to eat lower on the sea-food chain (for example, small fish and shellfish harvested by acceptable methods), avoid fish with high levels of toxins, and also recognizes that our over-all seafood consumption must be reduced. To solve the challenges facing our oceans, we need to eat LESS seafood, not just different fish.
You can also look for common fish that has been caught using handheld "hook and line” techniques or harpoon. For example, in California we have a fishery for small albacore tuna that uses hook-and-line, a method that is practically free of by-catch. The tuna is small, so it hasn't accumulated dangerous levels of mercury either.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on February 18th, 2009
About 25 sea turtle symposium delegates gathered to share concerns about the growing number of port expansions and increased shipping traffic in sea turtle habitat around the world at a ports and shipping discussion hosted by Sea Turtle Restoration Project at the international symposium in Brisbane, Australia.
Among the most troubling projects are located on the East Coast of India in Orissa and in Northwest Australia. A large industrial port at Dhamra in Orissa is just one of 30 new ports planned for the coastline where olive ridleys nest im mass arribadas. While most of the controversy to date has focused on Dhamra where environmental review has been sidelined in favor of corporate profits, sea turtle biologists and activists from the region explain that there are many more coming down the pike that could spell bad news for the future of the sea turtles. The lighting, dredging, noise and disturbance of the port construction project alone could disrupt life cycles.
In northwest Western Australia, Chevron plans to build a new LNG processing plant and vessel terminal smack on top of rare Australian flatback habitat (see photo of flatback.). While Chevron is making some attempt to study these sea turtles, it's clear that the company plans to build no matter what. Right now flatbacks nest on Barrow Island where Chevron has been operating about 50 oil rigs in the middle of the island. Crude oil is pumped through a pipeline 4 miles off shore to tankers. The sea turtles seem to be surviving despite the development, though no studies have ever been done to see if the industrial facility has caused any problems.
The new project would add a huge processing plant for natural gas found offshore in the Gorgon Gas fields. The gas would then be pumped offshore to waiting ships. It will be a huge project that is very likely to disperse the flatback population, but again, no long-term studies have been done to see what the problems might be.
Worse, the entire coast of Western Australia is threated by plans for 50 new industrial port and mining projects that could forever remove sea turtle habitat as well as destroy other marine life, ancient land species and Aborignal sacred sites.
During the discussion, people pointed out other areas where ports and shipping intersect with sea turtles. In Malaysia, a LNG port is located right next to a sea turtle nesting beach. When hatchlings leave the nest, they tend to veer down the beach towards the flares of the gas plant smokestacks or the ship lighting instead of to the sea. They won't live long if they use energy going the wrong direction.
In California, leatherback sea turtles were found congregating in shipping lanes outside the Golden Gate near San Francisco; and in San Diego increased cruise ship traffic could be a problem for sea turtles using the coastal waters there.
All agreed that the sea turtle community needed to assess the impacts to sea turtles from ports and shipping and develop guidelines based on research and existing science to develop international guidelines to prevent harm. Each location will need specific analysis, but a general framework is needed to address lighting, dregding, noise, disturbance, ship dumping, ship speeds in sea turtle habitat, destruction of nesting habitat, invasive species from ballast water, chemicals from hull fouling, and many other operational impacts.
As a first step, we will set up a listserv to share information and plan to conduct a session or sessions at the next ISTS in India next year. I look forward to moving this issue forward and engaging the sea turtle community in this international effort.
Sea turtle biologists, advocates, beach monitors, and experts from around the world were officially welcomed tonight along the banks of the Brisbane River to the 29th International Symposium on Sea Turtle Conservation and Biology. Traditional landowners from a local dance troupe clacked sticks and pounded their feet down in ancient moves while a didgeridoo player sounded a circular drone. Several hundred people watched from the Piazza, a large concrete amphitheatre in the humid night air. STRP's Western Pacific campaigner Wences Magun arrived last night, so he joined me at the uplifting outdoor celebration of the sea turtles.
For many of us, this was not the beginning of the symposium, but the third day of presentations, talks, meetings and greeting with sea turtles at the center all the while. We started on Saturday with Pacific Island people explaining new sea turtle protection efforts on remote tropical islands where in some places indigenous communities still use sea turtle eggs and meat. The message I heard was that the success of any conservation effort where turtles are a means of survival must include the people who live near the beaches. Long gone are the days where top-down efforts are seen as a viable path. The leaders in the Pacific Island sea turtle conservation community have produced a plan of action to protect sea turtles across national boundaries beginning with projects to count nests and sea turtles and monitor beaches -- often for the first time.
The Western Pacific leatherback sea turtle was center stage on the second day. The critically endangered sea turtle is declining through its range. In the Southeast Asian region, protections and information about the declines are only now beginning to emerge. Sea turtle scientists are viewing the totality of the leatherback populations scattered from Australia to Indonesia and east through the Pacific Islands as one "meta-population" that migrates south, west and north. Perhaps as many as 4,000 to 5,000 adult females are breeding in this region, but even that is hardly a safe and sound population, particularly when you realize that Atlantic leatherback populations number in the tens of thousands.
The hope is that new protections at the beaches will slow the march toward extinction -- though for some fisheries agencies it seems the primary goal is to protect more sea turtles so that more may be sacrificed in longline fisheries for swordfish and tuna.. At STRP we are working for the long-term survival of the Pacific leatherback and an unemcumbered ocean where they can swim free forever.
I'll write more soon on the fascinating Australian flatback sea turtle and collaborative efforts in the tropical north to keep them thriving in the face of industrial port projeccts, predation from non-native animals, beach erosion and hunting by subsistence communities.California based-Chevron wants to build a major new LNG processing plant and port smack on significant flatback beaches in Northwest Australia's Pilbara region. Yes, people do . . .
Today, STRP co-hosted a lunchtime disucssion on ports, shipping and sea turtles attended by about 25 people concerned about industrial developments along nesting beaches and in foraging habitat from Australia to India to Malaysia to California and Florida. More on that later, too!
One of the most disturbing changes that the former administration tried to make as they left office would damage the Endangered Species Act severely. This last minute law would enable federal agencies to make decisions on building highways, dams and other major projects that might drive plants and animals toward extinction without ever getting the advice of expert scientists with National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This terrible change can be prevented by supporting House Joint Resolution 18, legislation introduced by the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Nick Rahall. Please give thought to contacting your representative and asking him or her to support HJR 18. It just makes sense.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on February 11th, 2009
I've arrived in Brisbane and am getting ready for the International Sea Turtle Symposium that begins on Saturday, Feb. 14. Sea Turtle Restoration Project is organizing an informal discussion about the threats to sea turtles from ports and shipping on Monday. And on Wednesday, STRP campaigner Wences Magun from Papua New Guinea will present a summary of his recent work along the North Coast in Madang Province with communities to protect beaches and waters for leatherback sea turtles. We will also be busy forwarding a resolution to establish a marine protected area for Pacific Leatherbacks along the coast of Costa Rica. Wence and I have also been invited by Friends of the Earth Australia in Brisbane to give a talk about sea turtle protection and threats on Wednesday night.
Brisbane is situated on the East Coast of Australia in Queensland on the Brisbane River that curves like a rainbow serpent to the Pacific Ocean. This area has been spared the flooding to the north and the tragic fires far to the south in Victoria outside of Melbourne.
Being from California, the wrath of wildfires is well-known to me. But the extent of the damage and death toll is still shocking. The disaster in Victoria hit closer to home when I realized that I stayed for several days in one of the towns that was wiped out on Black Saturday: Marysville. Just before leaving Australia in November 2007, I stayed in a lovely caravan park in Marysville, a few hours northeast of Melbourne. On recommendation of my friend and colleague Cam Walker of Friends of the Earth, I hiked in the Cathedral Range north of town, looking for koalas. I never saw one, but spent hours climbing through eucalytpus forest and over rocky sections high above the green farms below. This morning on television, animal rescue workers were shown bandaging the burnt leg of a koala that somehow escaped the blaze.
Tonight Australians will come together via television in a special broadcast featuring Australian stars including Nicole Kidman to raise funds for the families who have lost their homes and loved ones in the fires. My heart goes out to the people of Australia - my second home.
Leatherbacks, which feed primarily on jellyfish, are known to mistake plastic bags for food. Now a recent study has shown just how deadly plastic may be for the critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Autopsy records of 408 leatherback turtles, spanning 123 years
(1885–2007), found plastic in the
GI tract 34% of the time! Sometimes, the ingested plastic even blocked the gut, likely resulting in death of the turtle. Notice the large increase in plastic found in leatherbacks since the 1960s.
Plastic bags may kill tens of thousands of whales, seals,
turtles and other marine animals a year.
What can YOU do about it? Get your city to phase out the use of plastic bags! San Francisco already did it. Los Angeles banned plastic bags by July 1, 2010.
Starting today, users of Google Earth 5 can follow the migration of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle across the ocean, tracking their movements over time in an interactive, 3-D ocean world! A number of researchers at Tagging of Pacific Predators, led by Stanford University's Barbara Block, (one of our Great Turtle Race partners) worked with Google to share the data. Once users find a leatherback, they can even "swim along" from a leatherback's "eye view.” The tracking data--which can be viewed under the "animal tracking" Ocean layer also includes, tuna, sharks, whales, seals, and other marine life.
For a hint on where to find leatherbacks this time of year, try the South Pacific Gyre. What's that? Well... you might learn something in the process!
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on January 28th, 2009
Whether mothers and children will be warned about the harm from
mercury in canned tuna will be decided not based on threats to health
or the latest science. Instead, it will hinge on whether a panel of
judges believe the tuna industry's claims that the potent neurotoxin is
"naturally occurring" and therefore not needing a label under
California's Proposition 65 chemical "right to know" law.
a court hearing yesterday in San Francsico, the California Attorney
General's office argued that even if only 5 percent of the
methylmercury in fish was NOT naturally occuring, it is toxic enough to
warrant a warning because it is known to cause cancer and reproductive
harm. See the Associated Press story at sfgate.com.
No one except the tuna canners dispute that tuna and other fish contain
methlymercury or that it's potentially harmful to pregnant women,
unborn babies, children and anyone who eats too much of it. Even the
federal government under the Bush Adminstration issued warnings against mercury-laden fish.(Though the FDA staffers who remain are still hoping to repeal the advisory.)
also clear the mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants around
the world deposit tons of mercury into the atmosphere, which is
deposited in the ocean and converted to toxic methylmercury by
bacteria. The toxin then is eaten by marine organisms, fish and
eventually accumulates in the tissue of large fish. Some of the mercury
also occurs naturally in the ocean, scientists believe.
Because the tuna industry doesn't put the mercury in the fish, nor can
they take it out, the lobbyists argue that it is naturally occurring
and expempt from Proposition 65 warnings. In fact, they want mothers,
children and everyone to EAT MORE toxic fish to make sure profits don't
lag. We sure hope that the judges don't agree. In fact, federal statute
has already determined that methylmercury in fish is caused by human
activity is not solely naturally occurring.
We'll know in
the next 90 days whether people will get the information they need to
decide whether or not to buy tuna for their families.
Posted by Teri Shore, Program Director on January 26th, 2009
Last week more than 60 people packed a classroom in Tiburon, California, to hear author Dr. Jane Hightower reveal the findings in her book Diagnosis Mercury. The book explains why mercury-tainted fish still makes its way to our dinner plates. Today, Yale University published her appeal to the Obama administration to reverse decades of obsolete science and seafood industry interference and set safe standards to protect women, children and sushi lovers from mercury poisoning from fish.
Dr. Hightower is a dynamic speaker and truth-seeker who came to this issue through her patients. She never intended to be the one to expose that our mercury-safe standards are based on a mercury poisioning in Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in power. Now that the U. S. FDA is trying to push through a last-minute Bush adminstration effort to weaken these standards, her story is more important and timely than ever.
Not only is mercury-laden tuna, swordfish and sushi bad for your health, the fishing methods used to capture these fish are wiping out endangered sea turtles, birds and whales and devasting the ocean.
The world's oldest fossil of a turtle discovered off the coast of China last year turns out to be... a sea turtle! The fossil, thought to be 220 million years old, gives scientists new insights into how turtles got their shells. It provides evidence that turtle shells formed from their bellies as extensions of the backbone and ribs, not as bony plates evolved from skin. The lower shell is thought to have protected the swimming proto-turtles from predators lurking below.
The fossil also suggests that turtles evolved in the sea and only later spread onto land. In other words, the earliest turtles may have actually been sea turtles!
Crab fisher Steve Lodoen recently posted this on the Coastside Fishing Club listserv:
"We were out of Pillar Point and were 11 NM from the green can when we pulled our
pots from 280' of water. We saw the turtle on the way back to the harbor from
pulling our pots. The . . . picture looks back at Half Moon Bay, but I'm not
sure how far out we were at the time. The turtle was heading out to sea when we
saw him (her ???)."
"I'd guess it was 5 feet long or more and had a head half the size of a
(CBS 5) ― Each year, hundreds leatherback turtles migrate half way around the world -- swimming thousands of miles across the Pacific from their nesting grounds in Indonesia to the Bay Area, to feed on a massive colony of the jellyfish. But many of the rare turtles could soon be snared in California fishing lines.
Yet the leatherback is in trouble. Many die each year at the hands of fishermen, and this may soon worsen right off California's shoreline. Longliner fishing boats out for swordfish regularly catch turtles in their deadly hooks. The turtles often drown and die before fishermen are able to untangle them. That's why longline fishing was banned off the West Coast years ago. But now, despite opposition from the California Legislature and environmental groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service is getting ready to allow longline fishing between 50 and 200 miles off of our coast.
"At a time they should be trying to protect these sea turtles and save every leatherback…they are putting more hooks into the ocean and increasing threats to the species," said Michael Milne of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
Video and full story at http://cbs5.com/environment/leatherback.turtle.killed.2.869880.html
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director: on November 7th, 2008
The election of Barack Obama was an historic moment for the US and offers all Americans and the people of the world hope for the future.
There is so much to do and he seems so capable and inspiring.
But we cannot forget it is only the beginning of a process that if we don’t stay organized, focused and critical when necessary, it can backfire resulting in a lost opportunity. The last thing we want is future disillusionment of a whole new generation of young people who were energized to get involved with this inspirational human being.
We must remember that, as Obama himself has said repeatedly, “change doesn’t come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up.”
The forces which plunder the Earth have not gone away and still yield tremendous political power and will do all they can to maintain the status quo.
Our job is to assist and support Obama as he makes good on his environmental and social justice promises and hold him to account if he does not.
As the climate warms and the effects of climate change become more pronounced, STRP has stepped up efforts to mitigate the negative consequences for California’s sea turtles. This past week, STRP submitted comments to the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) on their draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. In our letter, we advocated for an increasingly precautionary approach to fishery management in the West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone—the ocean waters between 3-200 miles from shore.
Commercial fisheries and government policy-makers need to respond to a new reality: global warming makes the consequences of fishery by-catch an even graver threat to the Pacific leatherback and Pacific loggerhead. The effects of climate change are likely to introduce greater scientific uncertainty into population viability analyses as scientists struggle to assess changing sea turtle habitats, reproductive success, and population resiliency.
What does this mean? We need to reduce existing levels of sea turtle by-catch right now.
STRP recommended the OPC consider:
• Fishery policies that include cumulative effects analyses of the impacts of climate change on California’s sea turtles
• Legislative efforts to prohibit longlining in the West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone
• Additional protections for loggerhead sea turtles given the projected increase in EL Nino frequency
• 100% observer coverage on California’s drift gillnet fleet
Posted by Carole H. Allen, Gulf Office Director on October 14th, 2008
The Gulf of Mexico from the Texas/Louisiana boundary southward to the boundary shared by Matagorda and Brazoria Counties (Texas) is full of debris following Hurricane Ike. The National Marine Fisheries Service has authorized shrimp trawlers not to use their turtle excluder devices (TEDs). Instead, shrimp trawlers in the affected areas can use restricted tow times instead of TEDs. The trawlers must limit their tow times to 55 minutes from the time the trawl doors enter the water until they are removed until November 7 at 11:59 p.m. The authorization extends 20 nautical miles.
Hurricane Gustave brought a similar authorization in the waters off Louisiana from the Mississippi/Louisiana boundary to the Texas/Louisiana boundary extending offshore 20 nautical miles due to debris from Hurricane Gustave. This authorization ends on October 26.
According to an article in the Beaumont Enterprise, shrimpers are only catching 1/3 of what they normally catch because of heavy debris levels. With such low rates of catch and the danger of large objects in the water, it would make sense for the government to suspend shrimping instead of calling for a limited tow time which is virtually un-enforceable.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World
Conservation Congress passed a resolution calling on the world, but
especially Costa Rica and Ecuador where the species migrate between
to nest and feed, to create better protection for the critically
endangered Pacific Leatherback sea turtle.
Meeting in Barcelona, more than 8,000 scientists, government
officials and environmental organizations from over 250 nations
overwhelming supported the resolution, sponsored by our sister
organization, PRETOMA, with little debate on Monday (Ocotber 14,
2008), which calls for a "dynamic Leatherback Conservation Zone"
along the migratory route of this species that after nesting in Costa
Rica swims out toward the Galapagos Island during its annual
migration between feeding and nesting areas.
This species is so critically endangered because of the capture of
adults in fishing nets and longline fshing gear, that there was
virtually no opposition. Without immediate action in the Pacific, we
will lose one of the most ancient gentle creatures on the planet, in
the next ten to thirty years.
Based on new satellite tracking data, we know leatherbacks spend a
significant portion of their migration in the sovereign waters of
Costa Rica and Ecuador, where they are being killed in longline and
gillnet fishing gear. While high seas areas are also important and
the species need protection here as well, it is much easier and
quicker to get individual governments to act than multi-national
bodies, such as the United Nations.
We have a plan that will open and close portions of the migration
corridor to fishing as turtles enter and exit the area, thus
minimizing impact(and hopefully opposition) to fisheries, while
allowing one of the largest reptiles on Earth to continue its 100
million year old existence in the future. We believe this corridor
is also used by other endangered species, such as hammerhead sharks,
based on preliminary data, and thus the proposed conservation zone
will benefit many threatened marine species.
Now the hard work continue to turn these resolutions into action. We
will be demanding action from governments and fishing bodies to
prevent the extinction of one of the world's most unique animals.
The World Bank is no bastion of environmental conservation, but they have joined the swelling ranks of governments, environmental NGOs, fishery managers, and even the WTO (!) in speaking up about the state of the world's fisheries.
According to a new World Bank study circulated at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress now underway in Barcelona, Spain, streamlining global fishing fleets and catching fewer fish could
conservatively save $50 billion per year—at least half the value of the
existing global seafood trade. The report, “The Sunken Billions: The Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform,” estimates that the total economic loss to the global economy over the past 25 years has been approximately $2.2 trillion USD!
Zoinks Scoob! $2.2 trillion!
Global fish stocks have been diminished to their lowest levels in history, and now ‘too many fishers chasing too few fish’ has made fishing incredibly costly, a sinking ship buoyed by yearly global subsidies of at least $30-34 billion. Experts estimate that upwards of 75% of the world's commercial fish stocks have seen dramatic declines in the last couple decades.
Think this is a minor issue? Think again! Healthy fisheries are fundamental to the global food security and
economic security of many of the earth's poorest people. Fish was once the main animal protein for over 1
billion people. It provides livelihoods for over 200 million people—90
percent of which are in the developing world. For these people, the loss of fish stocks is devastating, and a matter of economic justice.
‘Sunken Billions’ notes that despite recent large increases in global fishing effort and cost, marine catches have been stagnant for over a decade. The report estimates that current levels of marine catch could be achieved with approximately half of the current global fishing effort—illustrating the massive amount of overcapacity and the inefficiencies of the global fishing fleet.
The World Bank study identified three major ways global fisheries could create an economic surplus and drive economic growth rather than being a net drain on the global economy. It recommended a reduction in fishing effort, the rebuilding fish stocks, and the elimination of fishing subsidies to increase productivity and lower fishing costs. In the absence of fishery reform, the World Bank report forecasts increasingly inefficient fishing operations and growing poverty among the world’s fishing communities.
The World Bank report comes on the heels of World Trade Organization deliberations on how to reduce fishing subsidies and simultaneously address the destructive influences of subsidy-driven overfishing. Reigning in over-fishing has become a rising international priority on the agendas of world leaders in the face of forecasts of future global fishery collapse.
STRP will continue to protect sea turtles and other species from longlining and other harmful fishing practices. Today, however, it appears destructive industrial fishing practices are heading towards Davy Jones' Locker.
San Francisco Chronicle science writer David Perlman penned an excellent article about Pacific leatherbacks swimming off the California coast in the September 29, 2008, issue. David also wrote about these rare and fascinating giant sea animals in July during the Great Turtle Race when Stanford researcher George L. Shillinger published a long-awaited study on sea turtle tracks across the Pacific. The science writer also took interest in the resolution (AJR 62) to protect leatherbacks from longline fishing that STRP passed with the leadership of Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco.
We may be biased, but we certainly could not agree more with David Perlman's recent recognition by Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists with the Distinguished Service Award.
Congratulations David on your award and thank you for the excellent scientific coverage of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle.
Posted by Carole H. Allen on September 28th, 2008 Gulf Office Director
The worst results of Hurricane Ike for sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are just now becoming apparent. Tons of trash from destroyed beach houses are floating up on south Texas beaches including the Padre Island National Seashore where more Kemp's ridleys have nested than anywhere else on the Texas coast. "Crews filled 14 40-cubic-yard Dumpsters in the past week," reported Larry Turk, chief of maintenance for the Padre Island National Seashore. "Miles haven't been touched."
The most serious result of the storm may be the removal of sandy beaches from miles along the upper Texas coast. Dr. Andre Landry, Jr. of Texas A&M University at Galveston described the beaches as "primarily Beaumont clay that has been exposed as the sand was washed across roads and into the bay. We will have a severe problem during the nesting season if beaches are not renourished."
Dr. Landry plans a survey of the upper Texas coast to get a complete picture of the beach erosion but right now, it looks very bad for nesters next spring.
This movie captures the intensity of this historical event and delivers a message you don't often hear in Hollywood! It's a must see and see it soon! It may have a short run with its "power for the people" message and little corporate backing!
The actors are great-- Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and Andre 3000 and the others who I wasn't familiar with.
At the time (1999), the New York Times declared the sea turtle
protesters the "Symbol of Peaceful Protest" and we delivered a message
that the WTO threatened our democracy when it ruled against the
turtle-shrimp provsion of the Endangered Species Act declaring it a
violation of so-called free trade.
My STRP colleagues Peter Fugazzotto, Josh Knox, Teri Shore and I marched in turtle costumes, infiltrated inside the WTO with official delegate status, and protested in the streets. It was an intense and exciting few days, and I never imagined that nearly 10 years later it would be made into a Hollywood movie!
As many of you know, there were hundreds of activists dressed in turtle costumes. The mastermind of this guerilla theatre was my friend, the late Ben White, who organized scores of sewing bees in Seattle over many months to literally create a bus load of costumes. I salute you Ben White. Your spirit lives on.
So, what was the Battle of Seattle all about? From our perspective, the WTO is an organization made up of faceless, unelected trade bureaucrats, that meets in secret behind closed doors - and whose mantra of "free trade" is a threat to our democracy…
How is it a threat? Under WTO mind-speak, nations must "harmonize" laws to create so-called "free" trade -or another words lower the standards of protection to that of the worst polluters or human rights violators.
This means the WTO can over-rule our democratic process declaring our hard-fought environmental, labor, & public health laws a violation of free trade.
I ask YOU
·Do we have a right to keep products out of our marketplace that are made by child & slave labor?
· Do we have a right to keep shrimp caught in ways that unnecessarily drowns hundreds of thousands of endangered sea turtles in from being sold in the US?
Not according to the WTO!
Which is exactly how sea turtles and the WTO came into conflict. Under the Endangered Species Act, there is a provision called the turtle-shrimp law, which requires nations who wish to import their shrimp into the US to use a simple device to keep endangered sea turtles from drowning. It's called a Turtle Excluder Device or TED.
The turtle-shrimp import law was not being enforced until we sued the US government. Once it was enforced, four Asian nations challenged the law at the WTO calling it a violation of free trade-and the WTO ruled in their favor.
This was the first case of the WTO attempting to overturn the environmental laws of a sovereign nation- It was the first concrete example of how trade laws were trumping common sense environmental protection. At first the Clinton administration was ready to weaken the Endangered Species Act to appease the WTO, but we organized opposition from virtually every major environmental organization, and the US government finally agreed to appeal.
The Battle of Seattle protests, compelled the WTO to back down and it overturned its earlier ruling.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project was honored to play our role at the battle of Seattle. We hung a banner inside the WTO meetings; we marched in the streets and blocked entranceways, we organized scientist opposition, and we joined the labor march with the chant of "Turtles and Teamsters United." We sent out scores of press releases, did hundreds of media interviews, and purchased full-page newspaper ads and billboards.
But the battle is not over. Globalization still threatens our oceans and their marine inhabitants. For example swordfish and tuna, caught in ways that kill sea turtles, dolphins and whales…, is today shipped overnight around the world… being taken from waters used by impoverished communities and shipped to the US and wealthynations to meet our luxury needs.
And thus we're still fighting to protect our oceans and our laws.
So enjoy the movie, but join us in the struggle for democracy, healthy oceans and healthy communities-- and never underestimate turtle power!
News from Galveston, TX: The sea turtle facility in Galveston, TX, operated by National Marine Fisheries Service survived the onslaught of Hurricane Ike. While much of Galveston was wiped out by wind, rain and waves, the "Turtle Barn" that houses 200 loggerheads and a few Kemp's ridleys survived the storm. It is located about a block behind the seawall.
"It was a good thing, as that's what protected them," said Carole Allen in Houston, Gulf of Mexico Director of Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
There have been no reports of sea turtles stranded or otherwise harmed by Hurricane Ike in the Galveston area as of Sept. 18, 2008. The nesting season is over and the South Texas Coast and Padre Island National Seashore were not hit by the hurricane.
Carole's own home in Houston was not damaged, but a tree took down power lines in her backyard, which she describes as a "jungle." She said that she as well as a million and a half other people are without power in Houston at least through the weekend. Fortunately, one of Carole's neighbors has been helping out by lending generators to her and others for a few hours a day.
"The neighbors have been wonderful," she said.
Elsewhere in the city, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and FEMA have set up centers where Texans can fill up on ice, water and food.
Pacific leatherbacks are gathering off the coast to feed on California’s super abundance of jellyfish. Leatherbacks have been sighted swimming in the shipping lanes and the 'precautionary area' off San Francisco Bay, off the San Mateo coastline, and farther south in Monterey Bay. N.O.A.A. researchers currently at sea studying these enigmatic animals have called this season a “boomer summer/fall for leatherbacks off the central California coast.” The leatherbacks currently feeding off the California coast have migrated across the Pacific Ocean from their nesting beaches in Indonesia.
Leatherbacks are one of the world’s largest reptiles averaging ~ 800 lbs, but are essentially “gelatinavores,” who eat almost exclusively jellyfish (and other gelatinous organisms that drift in the ocean)! Leatherbacks are most likely to be spotted in areas with large numbers of jellyfish. Scientists believe that large sea nettles are the leatherback’s favorite jellyfish.
If you’re on the water off the California coast and spot a leatherback, please send us an email! If you have photos, we'll post it!
Posted by Carole Allen on September 4th, 2008 Gulf Office of STRP
A few weeks ago, it looked as though the funding for the 2009 beach patrols on the upper Texas coast would be short by $50,000. This deficit would eliminate many important patrols of trained individuals looking for Kemp's ridley sea turtle nesters and hatchlings.
But something amazing happened! A prominent Houston attorney who owns a home in the Galveston area decided that he would take action to restore the funding. The idea that the patrols would be cut disgusted Mr. Joe Jamail, well known in many courtrooms.
He challenged sea turtle conservationists to match his personal contribution of $25,000 which would restore the amount needed for the 2009 patrolling season. The good news is that the goal of an additional $25,000 has almost been met. STRP members came up with almost $3,000 as have members of the Houston Zoo. Many other contributions, large and small, have been pouring into the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University.
We are grateful and appreciative for the interest of so many people who understand the need for patrols on the upper Texas coast now that a nesting population of Kemp's ridleys is calling it home. Thanks to everyone!
Recent scientific evidence shows climate change is changing the fundamental biology of Pacific leatherback turtles--not tomorrow, but today--and making these 100-million-year-old sea turtles more vulnerable to longline and drift gillnet fisheries.
A new study released on the Pacific leatherbacks in Costa Rica suggests that warmer oceans and more frequent EL Nino events--which are thought to be one consequence of climate change--may further complicate the species' recovery. Leading sea turtle biologists report that warmer ocean waters have caused female leatherbacks to nest less frequently and take more time to reach sexual maturity. The scientists believe that warmer water's reduced oceanic productivity is to blame.
Why is this important? Simply because if leatherbacks nest less frequently than before, the turtles will have to survive for a longer period of time in the ocean before reproducing. In short, leatherbacks will have to spend more time running a gauntlet of hooks and nets just to avoid extinction.
Commercial longline fisheries and government decision-makers must respond to this new reality. We now have direct scientific evidence that global warming makes the consequences of by-catch an even graver threat to the Pacific leatherback. It is time to remodel our existing policy frameworks to respond to this new threat.
Not only are loggerhead nests nearing a record-high in Georgia, far fewer dead sea turtles are washing up on shore. Read the Jacksonville newspaper article.
No doubt there are many reasons for this, but I suppose some of the credit should be given to Georgia shrimpers who we worked with about 10 years ago with our certified turtle-safe shrimp program. Those family based shrimpers were dedicated to protecting sea turtles by using Turtle Excluder Devices. One shrimper in particular, Sinkey Boone, argued for years that the holes in the TEDs needed to be bigger -- and years later the federal fishery managers finally did it.
Perhaps far less trawlers are out there shrimping today due to fuel costs and competition from imports, but my sense is that the Georgia shrimper's early embrace of TEDs has made a big difference.
So now 10 years later, and knowing that sea turtles take decades to
mature and return to nest, it seems that the responsible shrimpers
should take a bow.
The fact that the Hawaii swordfish and tuna longline fisheries ensnare many imperiled leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles is well documented. The impact of the Hawaiian longline fisheries on other species--such as whales, other marine mammals like dolphins, sea birds, and other marine wildlife--also deserves our attention and close scrutiny.
Every three months, the National Marine Fisheries Service releases figures on the previous quarters by-catch--species that are unintentionally caught in fishermens' lines or nets. The by-catch numbers are collected and tabulated from the records of on-board observers that document the by-catch of the fishing boats. Last quarter, there were observers on 100% of the swordfish boats--a regulation that is the product of Sea Turtle Restoration Project's 2001 lawsuit against the Hawaii swordfish fishery--but observers on only 33% of the tuna vessels. The result are disturbing.
Hawaii’s vessel observer reports also show that longline fisheries may
have already caught as many as 3 humpback whales, 7 false killer
whales, 3 Pygmy Sperm whales, 3 shortfinned pilot whales, 3 spotted
dolphins, 4 Risso’s dophins, 4 leatherback sea turtles, and 3 green sea
turtles in 2008
Hawaii’s longline fisheries have proven to be particularly deadly for vulnerable seabirds this year. According to NMFS, 25 Black-footed Albatrosses were killed in the last three months between April 1–June 30, 2008. In the entire years of 2005, 2006, or 2007, only 12, 17, and 14 Black-footed Albatross, respectively, were killed in the deep-set longline fishery. This troubling rise could not come a worse possible time since an endangered species listing is pending for the Black-Footed Albatross under the Endangered Species Act (in response to STRP's 2003 petition).
The dramatic loss of marine life comes at a time when federal fishery managers plan to expand Hawaii’s longline fishery. The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council has published plans to dramatically expand the swordfish fishery by eliminating limits on fishing effort and increase the allowed capture of loggerhead sea turtles from 17 to 46 loggerheads, an increase of 270%. Their proposal would gut two key regulations designed to mitigate the impacts of the swordfish fishery when it was re-opened in 2001.
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, and other groups are working together to make sure that the Hawaii longline fishery is not allowed to expand and increase it's death toll on sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and sea birds. We'll let you know when and how you can speak up to oppose this destructive fishery!
Posted by Carole H. Allen, Gulf Office Director on
The last 2008 Kemp's ridley nest found on the Texas coast was marked by hatchlings coming from a nest on Bolivar Peninsula no one had seen before trying to get to the Gulf. In the process, several were run over and killed. This points out the fact that more patrols and
much more public awareness are needed. Representing thousands of citizens who have
supported the recovery of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle for 30 years, the Sea
Turtle Restoration Project asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide
funding and staffing for patrols and protection of nesters and hatchlings. We
have been very fortunate that the Galveston facility of National Marine
Fisheries Service has stretched its manpower to respond to calls from the
public regarding sea turtles from the Louisiana border to Freeport. With the
obvious increase in Kemp's ridley nesters, they must have help. We also request
that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department assist in providing research funds for
more patrolling on the upper Texas coast. Of the 193 nests found this year
on the Texas Coast, 91 of them were located at the Padre Island National
massive daily patrol program provided by federal staff and volunteers at the
Padre Island National Seashore has proven once again that more vigilance results
in finding more sea turtles and their nests and keeping them safe. It is time for the upper Texas Coast to receive equal attention from
both federal and state agencies.
The rising cost of fuel is shifting the tide for marine biodiversity in a way that few politicians have had the courage to do. The past few years have produced front-page cover stories in newspapers and magazines lamenting the demise of the ocean’s bounty caused by overfishing, but few lawmakers are willing to address the fundamental root cause of overfishing, which is simply put, too many vessels chasing too few fish.
But there are some new headlines that may help:
“Japan to cut long-line tuna fishing operations ”
Fuel costs keep fishing US boats tied to the docks”
“E. Asia fleets to suspend tuna fishing / Fuel costs hit Japan, China, ROK, Taiwan”
Even before gas prices spiked this year, the economics of chasing fish with industrial-size vessels, especially on the high seas, has only “succeeded” because it has been propped up by an estimated $54 billion in annual subsidies, including discounted fuel costs.
A 2004 study by professor Peter Tyedmers in the Encyclopedia of Energy compares the material and petroleum energy required to power a wide variety of industrial fishing vessels with the energy contained in the harvested edible fish protein. Tyedmers concludes, “it is now common for direct fossil fuel energy inputs alone to exceed nutritional energy embodied in the catch by at least an order of magnitude.” Shrimp, tuna and swordfish are at the top of the list for the worse offenders when it comes to “edible protein return on investment.” Specifically, Tyedmers lists longlining as the least efficient technology.
It may be coincidental, but fishing for tuna, swordfish and shrimp are also the fisheries that kill the most sea turtles, and longlining fishing is strongly implicated in pushing the Pacific leatherback to the brink of extinction.
If you need another reason to question the wisdom of destroying marine biodiversity by industrial fishing that uses more energy than it produces in edible protein, don’t forget that swordfish and tuna are also high in toxic mercury. Eating it is hazardous to your health, especially if you are a woman of child bearing age or a child.
High fuel prices offers politicians an opportunity to reduce fishing effort by helping many of the fishers find alternative employment. The worst thing that could happen would be a knee-jerk reaction to provide fisher with additional fuel subsidies.
STRP will be closely monitoring and opposing nany political attempt to “bail out” fishers by providing them with cheaper fuel. If we want to help fishers, the oceans and ourselves, we need to find alternatives for fishers, not help them catch the last fish and kill the last sea turtle.
Posted by Carole Allen on July 9th, 2008 Gulf Office Director
The nesting season of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles has drawn to a close in a remarkable fashion. Records show that 190 Kemp's ridley nests have been confirmed on the Texas coast including (north to south in state): Bolivar Peninsula 5 Galveston Island 6 Brazoria County, just north of Surfside 1 Surfside Beach 2 Quintana Beach 1 Matagorda Island 13 San Jose Island 4 Mustang Island 5 North Padre Island 102, including 91 at Padre Island National Seashore South Padre Island 40 Boca Chica Beach 11
The 190 nest total exceeds the previous record of 128 Kemp's ridley nests found in Texas set during 2007. This marks the fifth consecutive year that record numbers of Kemp's ridley nests have been recorded in Texas since record keeping began in 1980.
So far this year, 2 green sea turtle nest has been confirmed on the Texas coast with one found at the Padre Island National Seashore and one at South Padre Island.
One leatherback sea turtle nest has been confirmed on the Texas coast at the Padre Island National Seashore setting a record of being the first nest found on the Texas coast in 30 years.
The annual Texas/federal closure of shrimping which began May 15 will end July 15, 30 minutes after sundown. Texas Parks and Wildlife states that "the purpose of the closed Gulf season is to protect brown shrimp during their major period of emigration from the bays to the Gulf of Mexico until they reach a larger, more valuable size before harvest and to prevent waste caused by the discarding of smaller individuals."
The closure also benefits sea turtles migrating, foraging and nesting in Texas waters. Sea Turtle Restoration Project has asked NOAA's law enforcement branch to board shrimp boats and look for any boats not using Turtle Excluder Devices from July 15 on. Shrimp boats from the entire Gulf come to Texas when the closure ends and puts sea turtles at further risk.
Allan Bolaños, Randall Arauz, German Soler and Alex Hearn, tagging a silky shark in Cocos
I recently returned from a trip to Cocos Island, tagging sharks. Since 2005, PRETOMA and TIRN have been tagging sharks in Cocos Island with acoustic telemetry. This type of tag is attached to sharks by shooting a dart with a tether into the flesh under the dorsal fin, by means of a spear gun. However, during our last expedition, accompanied by researchers from Colombia (Sandra Bessudo and German Soler) and Ecuador (Alex Hearn) we also attached a satellite tag to a silky shark. I want to share this picture with you, because in order to satellite tag a shark, we actually need to catch it, deck it, drill holes in the dorsal fin and attach the transmitter. PRETOMA did this type of work in 2005, assisting researchers from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center NOAA, but this is the first time we are actually doing it as main researchers.
During our next expedition in March 2009, we will be doing more of both tagging methods on sharks, and we will be satellite tracking green turtles too. And guess what? You can actually join us! You can either pay the full rate of going to Cocos Island and doing up to 4 dives a day for 7 days in one of the most fascinating shark sites, for slightly less than $5K, or you can purchase a raffle ticket for $100, and hey maybe you are lucky!
Today Greenpeace published a seafood report that ranks seafood sellers such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats for environmental soundness of their fish counter. It takes the concept of the seafood card produced by other organizations to a new level -- providing details on fish species and the stores that sell them.
We think it is a huge milestone for the oceans and for groups like ours who continue to question seafood consumption. Check out the Greenpeace website.
STRP plans to use this information along with what we know about the demise of sea turtles for swordfish and other species to identify and hopefully work with seafood retailers who want to provide fish lovers with only the very best options.
On a strong party-line vote, the California Assembly voted to support protection of sea turtles along the West Coast over the opening of deadly new longline swordfish fisheries. Assembly Joint Resolution 62 authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno passed easily off the Floor on Monday. It is now headed for the Senate.
However, it also appears that the single permit applicant, Peter DuPuy and his wife Karen, are attempting to thwart the state's efforts to protect marine biodiversity. They have riled up the anti-environmental minority in the Assembly to oppose the resolution in the name of seafood industry profits for a single fisherman and his cronies.
Yet the science speaks for itself: leatherback sea turtles are on the verge of extinction and every one we lose to longline fishing to serve the luxury food market for expensive swordfish (usually $20 per pound or more) is another step toward their disappearnce. We've never had a longline fishery along the California coast and we know there is no good reason to open one.
Those who support us are urged to sign the petition supporting West Coast Sea Turtle Protection and opposing the new longlline fisheries.
Here's the vote tally in the Assembly:
MEASURE: AJR 62
TOPIC: West Coast sea turtle protection.
LOCATION: ASM. FLOOR
MOTION: AJR 62 LENO Assembly Third Reading
(AYES 45. NOES 27.) (PASS)
Arambula Beall Berg Blakeslee
Brownley Caballero Carter Coto
Davis De La Torre De Leon DeSaulnier
Dymally Eng Evans Feuer
Fuentes Furutani Galgiani Hancock
Hayashi Hernandez Huffman Jones
Karnette Krekorian Leno Levine
Lieber Lieu Ma Mendoza
Mullin Nava Nunez Parra
Portantino Ruskin Salas Saldana
Solorio Swanson Torrico Wolk
Allan Bolaños, Ilena Zanela and Randall Arauz, on board the Proteus of Marviva
This is unbelievable, but I'm in Cocos Island and I have internet access! I'm on board the Proteus, a surveillance boat owned by Marviva, a Costa Rican marine conservation organization that fights to protect Cocos Island. The goal is to tag fifteen sharks with acoustic tags, deploy two acoustic receivers, and tag 6 sharks with satellite telemetry. I'm part of a team of researchers from Marviva, the Malpelo Foundation of Colombia, the Charles Darwin Foundation of Ecuador, and of course, Pretoma (the sister organziation of TIRN). We are also accompanied by colleagues of the University of Costa Rica. The expedition is funded by Conservation International-Walton Foundation.
Marviva: Cindy Fernández
Malpelo Foundation: Sandra Bessudo and German Soler
Charles Darwin Foundation: Alex Hearn
Pretoma: Randall Arauz, Allan Bolaños, Ilena Zanela
We left San José (the Capital of Costa Rica) last Friday, and took a long 10 hour bus ride to Golfito, close to the border with Panama. Usually the trip takes 6 hours, but the main road had been wiped out by the recent storms. We were expecting our colleagues from Colombia to be flown into Golfito during the afternoon, so we could depart that evening, but again, the storms delayed thier flight until saturday morning. We didn't start our 36 hour boat ride to Cocos Island until then, and finally arrived to the island today, this afternoon.
At Pretoma we have been tagging hammerhead sharks in Cocos Island with acoustic tags for 4 years, underwater with scuba gear. The big challenge now will be tagging the sharks with satellite tags (called SPLASH tags), which will require the sharks to be caught, and decked by means of a cradle. This will be exciting!
Tomorrow (monday morning) we will do our first dive in Manuelita, one of the most popular dive sites, and we hear there is plenty of hammerhead shark activity. Tomorrow night Allan and I will go set a fishing line with 15 hooks, and will attempt to catch a shark. I'll let you know how it goes! Stay tuned!
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on Houston, Texas
I'm not sure what Texas media is waiting for! Within the last week, several records were broken. More endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles came on Texas beaches than ever recorded on one day (23) and the number of ridleys nesting broke last year's record of 128 and zoomed to 161 nests. And, in addition to that, a rare leatherback nest was found at the Padre Island National Seashore.
This nesting is the first recorded since the 1930s!
Although a Houston Chronicle reporter is working on a story and the ABC TV channel in Houston has called for more information, nothing has been seen or heard about the Kemp's ridley history making year since a nest was found on Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston on April 25. It's time the voice of the turtle was heard in the land!
"Does the world need leatherback turtles? Most likely not."
That's how the New York Times
coverage (thanks!) of the Great Turtle Race II came to a close Monday.
This was presumedly a "devil's advocate" position, but it seems that
some of Mr. Revkin's readers heartily agreed. Perhaps you've never
thought about the value of leatherbacks beyond their instrinsic right to exist? Or
recognized that sea turtles have what Economists' refer to as "existence value" (the value
people like me derive from laying in bed knowing that somewhere out
there swims a creature of incredible resiliency and grace)? Or maybe
you implicitly understood that to pose this question about an ancient
species makes the world... a smaller, lonelier place.
The question "Does the world need [insert]?" seldoms gets asked, but
could be applied much more broadly. Does the world need potato chips?
Does the world need high heels? Does the world need air travel? These
aren't questions that we ask ourselves. Why not? And what does it
mean when we pose this question about a 100-million-year-old species? Is it
indicative of the hubris and anthropocentrism of a modern life spent
mostly indoors? Is it ignorance? Is it greed?
What is going on?!? What does your life experience tell you?
And in case you are wondering, here's how Todd Steiner responded:
We (the Earth’s inhabitants) definitely do need leatherback turtles.
This isn’t a question of aesthetics, as some readers state, because the
ultimate lesson of ecology is “everything is connected.”
For example, nesting leatherback and other sea turtles reverse the
usual flow of energy from land to sea and bring nutrients from the sea
back to low nutrient beach habitats. Their eggs provide calcium that
supports growth of dune vegetation which is the frontline against
hurricane impacts on other inland habitats (where people like to build
people their homes).
Leatherbacks eat (lots of) jellyfish including the stinging type we
all like to avoid. Jellyfish blooms (which impact fisheries,
recreation, and other maritime activities) have been linked to decrease
in sea turtle populations.
Leatherback eggs and hatchlings feed a myriad of terrestrial
species, which in their unique ways connect to other parts of our
ecosystem upon which humans and other species rely.
These are some of roles we know leatherbacks play in ecosystem
functions and who knows how other roles they play that we don’t know.
It is arrogant to think that we humans know enough about the role
various species play in the web of life to assume it’s OK to lose a few
of the working parts.
If you disagree, try to take apart a clock and just throw away one
of the pieces that doesn’t look that imortant. Put the clock back
together and see if still works.
Unless you live under a rock (and use one of those foot-powered Fred Flintstone cars), you’ve probably noticed that gas prices have gone up, way up. Today we hear what may be one of several silver linings about the end of “cheap” energy--news that the increasing fuel costs may reduce overfishing in the world’s ocean.
See Longliners idle in port, citing fuel costs.
In case you don’t know, recent studies are predicting a global fishery collapse by about 2045 (and I’m surprised that they predict it that far into the future). Most scientists agree that the global ill of overfishing is at least partially due to overcapacity, a reality that is perpetuated by subsidies.
I have always felt that the WTO negotiations over the reduction of fishing subsidies hold great promise to cure overfishing. Now, with high fuel prices, they hold even more importance.
How much do we spend on fuel subsidizing the decimation of our fish and turtles?
Estimated fuel subsidy for some of the developed countries
Country (US$/Litre) Litres (million) Total cost US$ millions/yr
Australia 0.20 205 41
France *0.14 673 94
Greece *0.20 68 14
Hong Kong 0.40 155 62
Japan 0.25 4,459 1,115
Spain 0.10 1,259 122
Taiwan1 0.09 1,329 120
USA 0.06 3,010 184
Total 1,752 million dollars!!!
FUEL SUBSIDIES TO GLOBAL FISHERIES:
MAGNITUDE AND IMPACTS ON RESOURCE SUSTAINABILITY1
Ussif Rashid Sumaila1, Louise Teh1, Reg Watson1, Peter Tyedmers2 and Daniel Pauly1
Fisheries Centre, Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory (AERL), University of British Columbia.
2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC., V6T 1Z4, Canada
School for Resource and Environmental Studies (SRES), Faculty of Management,
Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on May 23rd, 2008
The finding of seven new Kemp's ridley sea turtles nests on the Texas coast on Thursday, May 29, brings the 2008 total to 101. Last year 128 nests were found and with more time left in the nesting season, that record will surely be broken.
With record numbers of Kemp's ridleys returning to the Mexican nesting beach at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, it looks like a promising year in the Kemp's ridley struggle to survive following near extinction in the mid-80s. Stay tuned for more exciting developments.
ENVIRONMENTAL groups have welcomed a decision by eight Pacific nations to block tuna fishing in pockets of international waters. See the story or keep reading.
A meeting in Palau of 17 Pacific countries, including Australia, yesterday noted the plan to stop boats from fishing for tuna in two large areas of international waters.
The so-called "doughnut holes" were identified as having been plundered by tuna fishermen.
One is north of Papua New Guinea, and the other is further east.
The plan to protect the areas was agreed to by the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
From June 15, all tuna vessels licensed to fish in their waters will be banned from taking tuna in the two areas.
Boats entering the protected waters from any of the eight signatory countries will have to carry fisheries observers on board at all times.
The move was prompted by fears that many stocks of valuable tuna species such as yellow fin and big eye are being fished at unsustainable levels.
"This is an historic moment in fisheries management in the region," said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Jason Collins.
"The Australian Government support for Pacific Island countries taking such a bold step was helpful, but we need to see Australia taking a leadership role in ensuring that these areas of international waters are closed to fishing.
Greenpeace oceans campaigner Lagi Toribau said vessels determined to get into the doughnut holes could, in theory, still enter via the seas of countries that had not signed up, such as Fiji.
"That will be part of a bigger fight the eight countries take to Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in December," he said.
He said while the fishing restrictions could push up the price of tuna, sustainable fishing would mean more stable prices in the long term.
History was made again on the Texas coast on May 16 when the most Kemp's ridley nests found on any single day was recorded. Nineteen nests were found including nine at the Padre Island National Seashore, five on South Padre Island; three on Boca Chica Beach, one on Mustang Island and one on San Jose Island. This was the most Kemp's ridley nests documented on the Texas coast in a single day since record-keeping began in 1980, according to Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief, Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery. Padre Island National Seashore,National Park Service. So far this year, 78 Kemp's ridley nests have been confirmed on the Texas coast.
Unfortunately, at least 12 possible cases of mutilation to have been recorded including a sea turtle at the National Seashore on May 8 with all flippers and its head cut off plus removal of internal organs. I contacted federal law enforcement and asked for an investigation into this inhumane finding. Although sharks are known to attack sea turtles, an investigation is needed to prove that it was a shark attack.
Thousands of dollars of reward money are available from the federal government if a report of killing an endangered sea turtle leads to arrest and prosecution. Anyone having information about the killing of a sea turtle should call the NOAA law enforcement Hotline (800) 853-1964 and report it.
Last May 1st, the US government announced that it had certified 40 nations as meeting the requirements set by Section 609 of PL 101-162 for continued importation of shrimp into the United States, including Costa Rica. Ironically, as the US acknowledged the Costa Rican shrimp industry for protecting turtles, 13 artisinal fishing organization and PRETOMA filed suit against the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute INCOPESCA, for failure to enforce TED regulations and cause the deaths of at least 10,000 sea turtles per year. I have been working on this issue for over a decade, and know by experience that a US certification only means that on the day of the announced inspection, TEDs were installed during port inspections. Costa Rica has already been slapped with 3 embargoes since 1999 for failure to use TEDs. When the last embargo was imposed in 2005, inspectors busted 3 shrimp vessels cheating, on the day of the announced inspection! According to US law, to obtain a certification countries must have a comparable turtle conservation program (shrimp trawlers must use TEDs). The 13 fishing organizations and PRETOMA filed suit because 17 vessels have been captured without TEDS over the last 3.5 years, and not a single one has been sanctioned. Is this a comparable program? Do boats ever get busted in the US? If they do, do they ever pay fines? If so, then there is no way in which the Costa Rican program is comparable to the US program, and thus, the US must impose the embargo, as Costa Rican shrimp trawlers are killing turtles.
Things are still looking good for the Kemp's ridley nesting season on Texas beaches. As of today (May 7), 48 nests have been found compared with 28 a year ago. In response to several dead sea turtles being found on the beaches and requests from the STRP Gulf Office, both federal and state law enforcement have gone into action boarding shrimp boats checking for Turtle Excluder Devices. The Gulf of Mexico commercial shrimp season for both state and federal waters will close from 30 minutes after sunset on Thursday, May 15, until an unspecified date in July. The closing and opening date is based on samples collected by Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries Division using trawls, bag seines and information gathered from the shrimping industry.
The closure is designed to allow small shrimp to grow to a larger more valuable size before they are vulnerable to harvest, according to Dr. Larry McKinney, TPWD coastal fisheries division director.
The sea turtles and every other creature that dies in shrimp trawls as untargeted species will benefit greatly from the closure.
Imagine a 40-mile trap line strung out across the landscape like the telephone wires and power lines that crisscross the forests and deserts of your country. Every 250 feet or so, imagine a baited trap sitting ready to snare any animal that attempted to take a bite of what appears to be an easy meal. Imagine if companies set out trap lines and caught grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, moose, badgers, cougars, wolverines, and other wildlife in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, or the Cascades.
This is what longline fishing would look like on land.
Imagine the response! People would go ballistic!
I thought of this “metaphor” the past week when I was lucky enough to attend Patagonia's "Grassroots Tools" conference in South Lake Tahoe, CA. While in Tahoe, I was struck by the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mtns. I felt immediately connected to the snowfield-dotted peaks and the streams swollen with springtime runoff. Anyone would be hard pressed not to feel the power of that place and the urge to protect it from the threats of a clearcut, or a strip-mine, or a golf course.
It also got me thinking about one of the challenges facing Ocean advocates: the ocean is often a much more difficult place to visit. For many people who don't have the opportunity to get out onto the water, or go to the coast, it can be a bit of an abstract relationship. I cannot tell you how many times people have expressed shock and sheer delight at how beautiful sea turtles, whales, and some of the other marine wildlife actually are in real life. It is hard to imagine! (Thank goodness for snorkeling...)
Think about longlines as trap lines of the ocean next time you or someone you know considers eating some swordfish. It may make you or them think twice.
I was recently invited by the AVINA Foundation, to visit Brazil and share my marine conservation experiences with local scientists and activists. During my stay (April 21 -28) I met Jose Truda who leads efforts to protect right whales, Joa Batista, a community leader in El Faro de Santa Marta who struggles to preserve the cultural identity of his community as well as the surrounding natural resources, Jorge Kotas of CEPSUL, a branch of the Ministry of Environment in charge of marine resource conservation, Guy Marcovaldi, the national coordinator of Projeto TAMAR, Brazil’s famous and successful sea turtle conservation program, as well as several of TAMAR’s researchers and biologists who work at different stations, such as César Augusto Da Silva who directs TAMAR’s project in Sergipe, and Gilberto Sales, one of TAMAR’s fishery biologists.
Not surprisingly, our colleagues in Brazil suffer the same issues. Overfishing, unsustainable coastal development, by catch issues, destruction of wetlands for shrimp farming, and shark finning. Even though there are many areas of potential collaboration, there are two fields I feel that PRETOMA could really help out. The first one is Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs. In Sergipe, the main problem for turtle conservation is identified as incidental catch by shrimp trawlers. There is an opportunity to work with these fishermen and teach them how to use them. The other field in which we could assist is the development of a national campaign against shark finning.
We could also really use TAMAR’s experience with environmental education and community involvement. At PRETOMA, we are now trying to consolidate a stretch of 30 km of beach which includes 5 nesting beaches. We could use TAMAR’s experience to develop an environmental interpretation center, designed to provide labor opportunities for members of these communities.
Seems that many people I meet, whether at a conference, on a hike, on a sunset cruise or a random encounter, have had a sea turtle experience. I just returned from an environmental health conference where one of the organizers told me she was swimming in La Jolla (near San Diego) when two sea turtles suddenly appeared: one small and one large. It was surprising since she had never seen them in all of her years of swimming there. They could have been greens, loggerheads or maybe even an olive ridley?
On our recent sunset cruise on the Adventure Cat, Captain Hans said he's spotted the rare leatherback once or twice outside the Golden Gate. And an Australian woman on board that night was a sea turtle lover whose goal is to visit every sea turtle nesting site in the world!
Other friends and acquaintenances have told me of seeing green turtles in Hawaii.
I've seen Kemp's ridleys in the hatcheries in Galveston and a loggerhead (I think) from off a shrimping dock in Georgia.
The sea turtle bring us together in surprising and mystical ways. Please share your sea turtle tales by going to the comment section of this blog and telling us your story!
Posted by Carole Allen on April 29th, 2008 Gulf Office of STRP
The Houston Zoo held Earth Day on April 19 and 20. The table assigned to Sea Turtle Restoration Project was always surrounded by children who made sea animal stencils on tiles they could take home. They also signed a scroll petition to send Governor Rick Perry asking him to protect Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the waters adjacent the Padre Island National Seashore.
The Earth Day sponsors thought the turtle table was best and picked it to receive a $500 check!
Rising sea-levels are eroding the nesting sites and diverting leatherback turtles from their traditional sites and moving them to other sites.
In June 2007 during one of my field trips to STRP's pilot project sites in north coast about one and half hours drive from Madang town, in Papua New Guinea, I observed vast stretches of devastated sea shores, and beaches/dumes.
I recalled these scenic and pristine black sandy beaches that stretched for abaut 40 kilometers from Karkum through Mirap, Yadigam, Tokain, Malas, Dibor, and Sabente villages that we had visited in the fall of 2006 and wondered what impact these devastation will have on the surviving leatherback turtles that come to nest there.
Huge strong waves caused by rising sea levels and strong winds had spewed huge rocks, debris of dead trees, onto these dumes, leaving behind foot prints of many broken canoes, torn down village houses, exposed tree roots, uprooted trees, shrubs and destruction to the leatherback turtles nesting sites.
In the fall of 2006 I had been reliably informed by our STRP volunteers that about 10 leatherback turtles had come to nest along this bountiful beach. Sadly in the fall of 2007 we had witnessed only one leatherback turtle come to nest in Yadigam.
The drop in the number of leatherback turtles that come to nest may be caused by other eminent threats such as the commercial developments, overfishing using longlines and gillnets, pollution and marine debris but I cannot brush aside the fact that rising sea level is if not one of the major threats that needs immediate attention.
Two weeks ago I was fortunate to walk along the beach from Karkum to Mirap as we were doing the boundary survey using GPS, and was shown kilometers of beaches that are now under the sea that were 40 years ago homes to these village folks.
I have no doubt that this same experience will be told to the next generation decades later that the on shore boundary survey that we have just taken will be included under the offshore boundary and wondered whether there will be any more leatherback turtles left then to come and nest.
Tomorrow night on April 25, we will be sailing San Francisco Bay on the Adventure Cat, a locally owned and crewed catamaran. We are delighted to have been invited on board by Jay Gardner, an environmentalist and sea turtle lover. Our leatherback campaigner Michael Milne, our development associate Maeve Murphy and I will be mingling with passengers and sharing tales of leatherback sea turtles that swim off the Pacific Coast. We hope the weather will be a bit warmer and sunnier than the last few days.
It is a trial run to see if people out on the Bay for a casual sail are interested in hearing about marine life, too! If so, we will try it again and invite some of you to join us! But you can always go anytime by reserving directly with Adventure Cat.
While online the other day, I came across this fascinating—albeit abit geeky—video on Leatherback turtle biology presented by Dr. Scott Eckert, Ph.D. a Scientist from Duke University interested in Marine Science & Conservation and an expert on sea turtles. This video may be long, but its worth watching as it describes some of the amazing talents and adaptations that made the Pacific Leatherback the only sea turtle to survive the asteroid that killed of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
For instance, @ 51:55, Dr. Eckert begins to describe how Leatherbacks use their flippers in an entirely different way than other sea turtles, and how this allows Leatherbacks to make the transoceanic voyages across the entire Pacific Ocean from nesting beaches in Indonesia to feeding areas along the US West Coast. Their unique way of swimming—as well as their body shape and other qualities—makes them incredibly efficient at swimming long distances. In fact, satellite-tracking data suggests Leatherbacks travel an average of approximately 6,000-miles/year roaming around the oceans—that’s about 16.5 miles almost every single day of every year for decades on end.
Last night I had dinner at the school cafeteria at Dominican College in San Rafael, CA, with author Richard Ellis (Empty Ocean, many other books, new book is Tuna - a Love Story due out in July) whose lecture that evening was hosted by Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The meeting was interesting and inspiring because I also got to hobnob with Don Neubacher, Pt Reyes superintendent, and his staff Sarah Allen, marine mammal expert, Ben Becker, biologist, and Jessica the new outreach coordinator.
Mr. Ellis previewed his upcoming book "Tuna - A Love Story," due out in July from Alfred A. Knopf. Ellis is fascinating with his tales of the power and beauty of the big bluefin tuna. He also described the species' decline from penning and "farming" around the world to provide sashimi primarily for Japan.
I was mesmerized by these magnificient predators when I saw them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Interesting facts include:
Bluefin tuna and other tuna are warm blooded unlike other fish and can turn on and off this function
Tuna penning/farming in the Mediteranean, South Australia and other parts of the world is devastating the species
The Tokyo fish market has recently closed to outsiders to avoid criticism over Japan's voracious consumption of disappearing fish
South Australians have for the first time ever bred wild bluefin in captivity.
Mr. Ellis has published numerous books and articles on the oceans and marine life, and is an accompllished painter. He also served on the International Whaling Commission, trying to stop commerical whaling around the globe. He generously signed my copy of "Empty Ocean." His next book is on polar bears!
In 2001, a court found that the HI-based swordfish longline fishery violated federal law and closed the fishery. In 2004, NMFS reopened the fishery with detailed regulations requiring special gear and limiting the amount of fishing that could take place each year. The US government limited the maximum number of longline sets that
could be fished at 2,120 sets/yr. They concluded that additional
fishing would jepoardize the Pacific leatherback and Loggerhead turtle.
This past Monday, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC) recommended that NMFS eliminate the limits on the number of longline sets/year. If approved, WESPAC's decision would rollback this critical regulation protecting sea turtles from shallow set longlines--a method 10x more likely than deep set longlines to capture and kill Pacific leatherbacks and loggerheads.
Thus, it appears that the Hawaii-based longline fishery is gearing up for a dramatic increase in swordfish fishing, with deadly consequences for imperiled sea turtles, whales, seals, and seabirds. At a time when WESPAC should be looking for ways to further decrease the impacts of longlining on ever shrinking populations of turtles, they are posed to allow even more fishing and by-catch of sea turtles. WESPAC and NMFS will be hearing from us and our members in the next couple months as we work to stop this myopic plan.
South Padre Island was the site of the first Kemp's ridley nest recorded in Texas for the 2008 nesting season. The turtle was seen by a patrol from Sea Turtle, Inc., a conservation organization started by the late Ila Loetscher. The turtle had no tags or showed any evidence of being raised in captivity and laid 104 eggs which will be protected.
Patrols began in earnest on the entire Texas coast on April 1. 128 nests were found in 2007 breaking all previous records. The Kemp's ridley was near extinction in 1985 when only 350 females were known to exist. Mexico and the United States have worked together for 30 years to protect beaches and adult turtles. Legislation requiring Turtle Excluder Devices on shrimp trawls to allow sea turtles to escape has been an important part of increasing numbers of this endangered sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pacific fishery managers shut down the California salmon fishery due to a crisis of crashing fish stocks. This was a critical and courageous move.
But today they OK'd the opening of a destructive new swordfish fishery in protected sea turtle habitat along the West Coast -- on behalf of a single commercial fishing operation run by Peter Dupuy.
The so-called experiemental permit would allow him to set more that 65,000 large hooks in prime leatherback foraging habitat during the fall of 2008.
We fought and defeated this same outrageous permit last year with the help of the California Coastal Commission, and plan to do the same this time around with the help of sea turtle and oceans activists as well as the scientific commnity and more "sane" fishers.
The following fishery council members should be commended for voting AGAINST the longline permit and Dupuy's fishing cronies (who apparently insulted and attacked enviros who spoke at the public hearing this afternoon).
THANK YOU TO THESE FISHERY COUNCIL MEMBERS:
Maria Vojkovich, Dan Wolford, Michele Culver, Mark Cedergreen, Dale Meyer
"A Struggle to Live -- The Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle" is a new DVD
offered at cost of mailing to teachers and other groups interested in
educating students and the public about these endangered sea turtles.
To order a copy, contact Gulf Director Carole Allen at email@example.com or 281-444-6204.
Our Central American campaigner Randall Arauz is in town this week from Costa Rica sharing his incredible work to save endangered sea turtles and sharks. On Monday night at the Dance Palace in Pt. Reyes Station in West Marin (north of San Francisco), he offered an amazing program about plans to expand nesting protection on the Pacific coast of Costa Rican to more beaches in order to stop the decline of the leatherback.
Photo by George Duffileld
He also told about how his working tagging hammerhead sharks in the Cocos Islands has resulted in new discoveries about the migrating patterns of these large, and disappearing, predators. Shark-finning is taking a huge toll on these unique sharks.
As a result of his findings on leatherback and hammerhead swimming patterns, we are preparing to launch a new campaign to protect the marine swimways off the coasts of Costa Rica and Ecuador from detrimental fishing and other activities. Come back to learn more.
Randall's presentation on sea turtles, sharks and Cocos Islands will soon be posted on our website.
After 18+ years at the forefront of the environmental movement with our innovative campaigns to protect sea turtles, we are happy to announce our new website. It has been quite a scramble to transfer to the new site, and as such, the site will continue to grow over the next couple of months as time permits.
We are excited about the new tools and information we have available to motivate people like you to become active in protecting sea turtles, marine biodiversity, and the oceans.
Keep checking out this blog for updates on our exciting campaigns - from working with the tribal villages in Papua New Guinea to protect leatherbacks to challenging the US federal government's efforts to expand destructive industrial fishing in the Pacific, from strengthening Kemp's ridley nesting beach protections in Texas to protecting sharks and sea turtles in the waters off Costa Rica.
We'll keep you updated with dispatches from the field and fisheries meetings, and informed about new ways to help us protect the turtles, our oceans and ourselves.
Thanks for supporting our work. We couldn't do it without you.