The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sea Turtles

Gulf Sea Turtles Still Not Safe

loggerhead sea turtle

Loggerhead sea turtle. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Over the past few months we’ve been reporting how sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have been drowning in shrimp nets in appalling numbers.

Well, we have an update today – and the news is mixed. 

In response to the revelation this summer that hundreds of sea turtles were dying, the government has stepped up its enforcement effort. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAA’s enforcement officers inspected more than 444 vessels to see if they were equipped with turtle escape hatches (also known as turtle excluder devices, or TEDs).

The verdict? 371 of the boats had TEDs in compliance with the law – leaving 73 of them either without TEDs or with the hatches tied shut or improperly installed.

While we’re happy to hear that NMFS is keeping up with TED enforcement efforts, these new numbers mean that only 83% of the boats are following the rules in place for the Gulf shrimp fishery to protect sea turtles from extinction. And that is simply not good enough.

Learn more about Oceana’s sea turtle campaign and stay tuned!


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Thursday Trivia: Loggerhead Sea Turtle

loggerhead sea turtle

A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

Today’s trivia post is about an animal we talk about a lot: the loggerhead sea turtle.

Loggerheads are named for their broad heads and strong jaws, which they use to force open even large hard shellfish like conchs and giant clams. Loggerheads are found throughout tropical and warm temperate waters, and are the most common sea turtle in the Mediterranean. Loggerheads have a redder hue than most sea turtles, and they are often coated in barnacles and algae.

Because they drink salty sea water, they have developed glands near their eyes that can get rid of this salt, which makes females onshore to nest look like they’re crying. Scientists theorize that adult loggerheads use the Earth’s magnetism to navigate – how cool is that?

Loggerheads, which are considered endangered, are frequently caught accidentally by the fishing industry; other threats include beach erosion and development, pesticides, and oil spills. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.

You can learn more about loggerhead sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Help Sea Turtles for Kate Walsh's Birthday!

kate walsh and sea turtle

It’s our favorite sea turtle lover’s birthday today: Kate Walsh!

In lieu of gifts, her fans, also known as Walshies, have been sending donations to – you guessed it – Oceana. So far they’ve raised $400, and the deadline is midnight tonight. So there’s still time if you want to show Kate and sea turtles some love.

Per Kate’s blog: “All it takes is a dollar and a PayPal account. Just click on this link, hit the “Chipin” button, make your donation, and leave a personalised message for Kate! Yup – it’s that easy!”

A huge thanks to everyone who has donated, and happy birthday, Kate!


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Thursday Trivia: Hawksbill Sea Turtle

hawksbill sea turtle

The adult hawksbill sea turtle lives in shallow warm water in coral reefs and mangrove areas around the globe.

This type of turtle is named for its beak-shaped mouth, which it uses to pry food out of nooks in a reef (tweet us their favorite food and you could win a prize!)—they also have two claws on each front flipper.

Like other sea turtles, hawksbills lay their eggs on sandy beaches, cover the clutch, and then head back to the ocean. When the eggs hatch, baby hawksbills make their way to the ocean. They can’t dive as well as other types of turtles, though, so they typically eat seaweed closer to the surface as they grow up. Less than one in 1000 hawksbill eggs will survive to adulthood.

Hawksbill sea turtles suffer the consequences of beaches that are no longer safe for nesting, unsafe fishing equipment, and struggling reefs, but they are also hunted by humans, particularly for their shells, which are the chief source of tortoiseshell. International law prohibits trading hawksbill shells.

Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe. You can learn more about hawksbill sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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Lick a Stamp, Save a Sea Turtle

tiger stamp

The new Vanishing Species stamp.

For those of you out there who still send snail mail – and I know there are some of you – we have some fun news. The U.S. Postal Service has issued a special “Save Vanishing Species” stamp to benefit endangered species including elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, great apes, and – you guessed it -- sea turtles.

While we would have picked the sea turtle to be the face on the stamp, there are as few as 3,200 Amur tigers left in the wild, so the big cat was chosen, and we have to admit it turned out beautifully.

Each stamp is 55 cents, 11 cents above the cost of a first class stamp. Those extra cents will benefit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s five Multinational Species Conservation Funds, including the Marine Turtle Conservation Act (MTCA). 

Only the fourth of its kind ever created by the Postal Service, this stamp is now available in post offices nationwide and will remain on sale for at least two years.

The MTCA is funded by annual U.S. Congressional appropriations.  As U.S. lawmakers focus on spending cuts in 2011 and the years to come, the sales of the wildlife stamp are an important source of funding for these animals. If all 100 million stamps are sold over the next two years, it will net about $10 million for these vanishing species.

And if it’s a success, the program could be extended. Since its inception, the Breast Cancer Research stamp has raised more than $80 million.

So go ahead, send your next letter with a sea turtle in mind – get your own set of these beautiful new stamps!


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Kate Walsh to Fans: Give to Oceana

Actress and sea turtle lover Kate Walsh posted the following video blog to her fans yesterday, urging them to give to her favorite charities - including Oceana! - instead of sending her gifts:

Thanks for the shout-out, Kate! And for all you Kate and/or sea turtle fans, you can also take action to help keep sea turtles off the hook.


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Rehabbed Sea Turtles Released in Chesapeake Bay

kemp's ridley sea turtle

Oceana the sea turtle, an endangered Kemp's ridley. © National Aquarium

Last Friday the National Aquarium and Oceana released three endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into the Chesapeake Bay at Maryland's Point Lookout State Park. The turtles came to the National Aquarium this winter from the New England Aquarium, after they were found stranded along Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered and smallest of all sea turtle species, making them particularly vulnerable to severe changes in water temperature. These turtles suffered from cold stunning - the sea turtle equivalent of hypothermia. After months of long-term rehabilitation by the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), the turtles, named Oceana, Prancer and Vixen, were released back into the wild.

Sea turtles commonly feed on an assortment of jellies and invertebrates in the Chesapeake Bay during warm summer months, which is why Aquarium officials chose this date and location for the release. These turtles are expected to stay in the mid-Atlantic region or head north for the remainder of the summer, before eventually heading south again in the fall.

Oceana the sea turtle sported a small satellite transmitter that will track its location and speed for several months, helping researchers learn more about sea turtle migration and travel patterns. You can follow Oceana’s (and the other two turtles’) progress at the Aquarium’s website. Check out more photos from the release on Flickr!


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Kate Walsh: My Ocean Inspiration

kate walsh

© Tim Calver

I had the good fortune to spend quite a bit of time in and around the ocean and sea during the last few months of my hiatus from “Private Practice,” both for work and for pleasure.

My love for the oceans is obvious, to be sure, but nothing reinvigorates my commitment to keeping our oceans clean, sustainable and beautiful more than swimming, snorkeling, sailing and swimming in them.  

The waters off the coast of Anguilla and the Bahamas are so clean, clear and warm and I got to see so much ocean life, from a vast array of colorful fish to the lush and intact coral reefs. I also love to visit the azure waters of the Aegean Sea that surrounds the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. 

Last month, I placed a banner on my website encouraging my fans to “Be an Ocean Hero” this summer (I pledged to clean my local beach.) So I was a little surprised (and very humbled and flattered) when some of these people – The Walshies as they’re affectionately known – wrote me to relate how my involvement with Oceana inspired them to become advocates too.

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few inspirational notes from The Walshies that reveal the capacity for the oceans to inspire and the power each of us holds to encourage our friends, family (or even fans) to get active in their protection:

Nicole (Miami, FL): After hearing about Oceana's Be an Ocean Hero pledge, now I too look beyond to what lies ahead, not only the superficial aspect of our waterways. Thanks Kate and thanks Oceana!


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Victory: Court Rules in Favor of Oceana on Bycatch

© Oceana/ Jesus Renedo

Great news for the oceans: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of Oceana in a suit that will require commercial fisheries from North Carolina to the Canadian border to monitor and report the amount of bycatch, or untargeted marine life, they discard.

This victory may seem like a small step, but it is a triumph against one of the biggest problems facing our oceans today. Bycatch is a major player in the destruction of marine ecosystems, and occurs when fishing gear indiscriminately traps marine life in nets, trawls, and fishing lines.

Tons of fish are wasted and thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and sea birds are injured or killed every year as bycatch. While the new law does not place limits on bycatch, it represents a crucial and long-awaited step in increasing the transparency in commercial fishing.

“For more than 15 years NMFS has violated the law, managing America’s fisheries without reliable information about how much fish and other marine wildlife is being shoveled over the side of boats, often dead or dying,” said Gilbert Brogan, northeast representative for Oceana. “This ruling is a significant step towards improving the management of U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic.”

Congratulations to everyone who helped win this victory for more abundant oceans!


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CEO Note: Sea Turtles Deserve a Breather

I want to update you on a needless tragedy that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

As I told you in May, Oceana uncovered government data showing that the shrimp fishery has been violating sea turtle protection rules, which likely has caused thousands of endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to be needlessly killed by shrimp trawls.

It’s been more than a month since our discovery, but the government is still standing by and watching as the sea turtles deaths continue.

Our campaigners uncovered official government documents showing that shrimp trawlers required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are often using them improperly or not at all. TEDs are escape hatches for sea turtles, who need to reach the surface to breathe. The documents even show that some shrimpers have deliberately sewn TEDs shut—condemning any sea turtle they catch to death.

Shockingly, there are some types of shrimp trawls, like “skimmer trawls” that are not even required to use TEDs at all. Instead, these trawls are supposedly required to limit the length of time they tow their nets to prevent sea turtles from drowning. However, the government documents show that these time limits are not enforceable and demonstrate that TEDs should be required for these shrimp trawls as well.

In part as a result of pressure from Oceana, the government has announced that it will be conducting a formal analysis of the shrimp fishery’s impact on threatened and endangered sea turtles and will be considering options for additional protections.

This is a pathetically slow response. It is appalling that the fishery is allowed to continue operating despite evidence that shrimpers in the region are likely responsible for the death of record numbers of sea turtles. Oceana has called for the immediate closure of the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery until and unless adequate sea turtle protections are established and enforced.

Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for millions of years, and now they are being unnecessarily pushed toward extinction. It's time to give sea turtles a breather. The government should act immediately to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles.


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