The Beacon: EGriffin's blog

New Study: Millions of Sea Turtles Caught Globally

sea turtle x-ray

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

The first ever global assessment of sea turtle bycatch came out this week in the journal Conservation Letters -- and it’s not pretty.

The study found that 85,000 sea turtles were reported caught by commercial fisheries worldwide over the last 20 years, but the scientists estimate that the actual number is two orders of magnitude higher than that -- in the millions.

The 85,000 figure only accounts for sea turtle bycatch that was reported, but the actual number of turtles caught is significantly higher because typically less than 1% of fleets have fishing observed and many small scale fisheries have no observer coverage at all.

The study looked at sea turtles caught by gillnets, longlines and trawls, three of the most commonly used fishing gear types. The bottom line here is that the number of sea turtles caught as bycatch is enormous. Without additional bycatch reduction and better enforcement of established protections, many sea turtle populations may go extinct.

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August 8, 2006

Today was the first day using the remotely operated vehicle "ROV" aboard the Ranger. On the way out to the research sight, most of the crew members were sitting in the kitchen area. Ricardo stuck his head in the door and yelled "pilot whales." I shot out to the deck. I don't remember the last time I moved that quickly. When I got to the front of the deck I saw approximately 12 pilot whales, which were most likely long finned pilot whales. I had never seen a pilot whale before so this made quite an impression on me.

Once at the study sight, we launched the ROV successfully. We were all able to see what the ROV was recording because the video was being projected in real time to a flat screen TV and computer monitors on board the Ranger. My favorite part was when we found a large octopus hiding in some rocky bottom habitat. The images from the ROV were fabulous and the experiment was a total success.

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Ode to Ranger

August 6, 2006

We woke up Sunday morning at sea and began preparations for the day. However due to difficulties with the underwater lights, the crane on the back of the boat, and the rough weather, the decision was made to head to port to insure that the boat was ready for the arrival of the ROV crew tomorrow. The ROV is a little mini-submarine that goes down unmanned and takes pictures underwater. It is very useful for exploring depths too deep for the divers to go.

The Ranger arrived in the port Almerimar around mid-day. This is a beautiful port that had much larger boats than Aguadulce. I spent some time wandering around checking out the yachts docked here and I even found a few from the U.S. Even with all these amazing other boats, the Ranger was still the largest boat in the port. The Ranger draws a steady stream of people standing on the dock checking her out where ever we go. She really is a beautiful vessel.

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Night swimming

August 5, 2006

We left Aguadulce in search of sea grass beds again today. The first dive was in the afternoon and it was very hot onboard. After the divers returned, the rest of us went for a swim to cool off. The water felt fabulous and refreshing when I first jumped in but within 5 minutes I was freezing. It's amazing how cold ocean water is once you get offshore, even in August.

The second dive of the day was a night dive. During a night dive, the divers wait until it is completely dark outside and then dive with bright lights. Many species of marine organisms are attracted to light and therefore come towards the divers. I was a bit nervous watching the divers disappear into the blackness but I quickly realized that unlike during day dives, you could actually follow the movement of the divers at night because of their bright lights and the glowsticks tied to each diver. It was very beautiful to watch the divers as they swam around like little fireflies under the sea.

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Sleepless night

August 4, 2006

We arrived back in Aguadulce port this morning after a rough night at sea. I awoke several times to find myself bouncing up and down off of my bed.

We spent the day preparing for the next leg of our journey. This meant doing things like laundry, grocery shopping and preparing equipment. We picked up 2 new crew members; a sailor named Concha and a new cooked named Gabriel.

We had a nice farewell dinner for Indi, the old cook, who will be leaving first thing tomorrow morning. After dinner we went back to the boat and Indi pulled out his guitar. It was a beautiful night and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music and looking at the stars. It was nice to hang out with the rest of the crew without having to stain to understand Spanish. It was then that I realized that there is one truly international language; music.

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August 2, 2006

We sailed west overnight to Cabo de Gata. I was surprised to wake up this morning and realize that it was after 9 a.m. I stumbled up the stairs and much to my surprise; there were two new faces on board. The two new people were divers familiar with the area that would serve as guides for the day. The area we are in, Cabo de Gata, is a marine reserve that has various management zones. In some zones fishing is prohibited and in others all activity including diving is prohibited. We had obtained special permission to dive in the restricted area and everyone was excited to see what we would find.

After the dives, we headed into a beautiful bay and anchored the boat for the evening. I took a refreshing swim and we watched the video footage obtained on the divers earlier today. The video was all taken in the marine reserve and there were noticeably more fish than in the video from the previous day. One of the best parts of the video was of a school of barracuda swimming over top of the divers.

I'm headed off to bed and am hoping that the calm waters of this bay lead to a peaceful night of sleep.

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My name is Elizabeth Griffin and I am a Marine Wildlife Scientist from Oceana's Washington, D.C. office. I met up with the Ranger in a small port in Southern Spain called Aguadulce on Sunday. We were in port until this morning which gave me the chance to become acquainted with the boat and the crew before we set sail. I also got to know the mosquito sharing my bunk! I was happy to have Margot, another scientist from our Washington office, here to show me the essentials, such as how to flush the toilets on the boat.

Today we left Aguadulce and visited two nearby sights in search of sea grass habitats. The divers had two successful dives and got lots of video footage and photographs of the sea grass beds and wildlife in the area. After my first day at sea, I am happy to report that I am not sea sick or sun burnt, and I have killed the mosquito in my bunk. Although I will admit, he died fat and happy.

The Ranger crew is a great group of people and they have been extremely tolerant of the fact that I speak very little Spanish. Life aboard the Ranger is very peaceful compared to my normal Washington, D.C. lifestyle. The scenery is beautiful and I am thrilled to be here.

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Government Inaction=5 Marine Mammal Deaths Per Day

We just completed a report called Pointless Peril that looks at the impact on Marine Mammal populations from the federal government's failure to meet its deadline to reduce the death and injury of marine mammals caused by commercial fishing operations to insignificant levels. The government was required by law -- the Marine Mammal Protection Act -- to do this by April 30, 2001. This was exactly 5 years ago! What we found is that approximately 10,000 dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals could have been saved in the last five years if the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities and met this deadline. This works out to five marine mammal deaths on average each day in U.S. commercial fishing gear because of the government's inaction.

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