The Beacon

Blog Tags: Bycatch

Thursday Trivia: Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

kemp's ridley sea turtle

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly trivia feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Today’s animal is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle. These turtles are usually solitary and live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, sometimes venturing up the Eastern Seaboard.

The relatively small range of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the reasons its population has been declining. When population concentrations are high enough, females come onshore to lay their eggs arrive together in mass landings (the name of these landings is our weekly trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!) Eggs and hatchlings make easy prey for dogs, herons, and humans—and some cultures believe sea turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs.

Adult sea turtles are particularly at risk of drowning after being accidentally caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers and other fishermen. Adding turtle excluder devices to nets allow turtles to escape and have made a difference in turtle bycatch deaths, although these rates are still high. 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 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia and from the Encyclopedia of Life.


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CEO Note: A New Victory for Sustainable Seafood and Healthy Oceans

I have some great news to share with you today. After a long legal battle, Oceana has succeeded in compelling the the federal government to reliably measure bycatch on the East Coast. Bycatch is the fish and wildlife that is thrown overboard, dead or dying, in the process of catching seafood.

Why is this important? Bycatch is one of the greatest problems facing the oceans today. It damages marine ecosystems by needlessly killing fish and wildlife, and it contributes to overfishing, further threatening our wild seafood supply. Worldwide, 16 billion pounds of bycatch are thrown overboard every year. This waste is tragic and completely unnecessary. The government needs to know the extent of bycatch in order to control it.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service is required by law to count and report bycatch, but until Oceana’s legal victory, its Northeast region refused to do so. After a clear decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the federal government will establish a clear system for reporting bycatch, including determining how many observers needed on board commercial fishing ships in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Oceana has fought bycatch for a decade now, and our campaigns have succeeded in saving thousands of sea turtles from shrimp trawls and longlines in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, as well as multitudes of birds, sharks, dolphins and fish from illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean.

With your support, we’re making the oceans a safer place for wildlife and a better source of sustainable seafood.


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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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U.S. Gov’t Fails to Protect Sea Turtles, Again

A loggerhead hatchling in North Carolina. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

While the U.S. government continues to dawdle, loggerhead sea turtles continue to suffer. (Yes, they need your help!)

Yesterday the U.S. government failed to meet its legal deadline for issuing a final rule providing additional protections for loggerhead sea turtles, whose populations have faced severe declines over the last decade.

Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed legal petitions in 2007 urging the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist North Pacific and northwest Atlantic loggerheads from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Then, a year ago, the government proposed to list loggerheads as endangered in response to a court-ordered settlement over prior delays. It has now failed to take timely action by missing the legal deadline to issue a final rule within one year.


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Not What You’d Call a Spring Chicken

Wisdom the albatross. © U.S. Geological Survey

Here’s a story to make you smile: the oldest wild bird in the country is a new mom -- again.

The United States Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that 60-year-old Wisdom, a Laysan albatross and the oldest known wild bird in the United States, is a new mother. Wisdom lives in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific northwest of the main Hawaiian island.

Albatrosses lay just one egg a year, and after a year in which they have successfully raised a chick, the birds may take a year off from breeding. Not Wisdom. She also nested in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Officials said she probably has raised 30 to 35 babies in her lifetime.

Wisdom’s longevity is a hopeful sign amid otherwise distressing trends for the seabirds. Nineteen of the 21 species of albatross are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN. Major threats to the birds include plastic pollution in the ocean and capture in long-line fisheries. The birds ingest marine debris, mostly plastic, and feed it to their chicks, lessening their chance of survival.

Let’s hope more birds live as long as Wisdom. Help their chances: take our pledge to reduce your plastic use if you haven’t already.


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Give Today to Save Sea Turtles

© Oceana/Carlos Suarez

For millions of years, sea turtles have been a vital part of ocean ecosystems – but today they are on the brink of extinction as a result of irresponsible fishing and habitat destruction, among other threats. We’re working our hardest to save them, but we need your support.

All six sea turtle species that swim in US waters threatened or endangered, but it’s not too late to save them. Donate today and join Oceana in the fight to protect sea turtles and restore ocean balance. With your donation, we will continue pushing for stronger fishing regulations and legislation that will help protect and sustain turtle populations for years to come.

Our goal is to raise $40,000, and we still have a long way to go. Please donate today to help us in the fight to save sea turtles from extinction. And if you’ve already given, thank you -- now pass the word on via Facebook, Twitter, and however else you can!


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Sea Turtles and Circle Hooks in the NYT

sea turtle x-ray

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

The Latest NYT “Scientist at Work” blog follows a sea turtle researcher, Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, as she travels to Ecuador to study factors in the cross-cultural adoption of sea turtle conservation technologies like turtle excluder devices and circle hooks.

Here’s an excerpt from her first post, including a great explanation of how circle hooks help sea turtles, and why turtles are like 40-year-old virgins:

“Some scientists estimate that a quarter of a million sea turtles are ensnared in fishing lines each year. This is truly a problem for sea turtles, which are the “40-year-old virgins” of the oceans. Turtles have a life span similar to humans, but might not start having young until they are several decades old. Dehookers and circle hooks are part of a suite of solutions that help longline fishers protect sea turtles, allowing them to mature and bear young while helping fishers continue to catch profitable tuna, swordfish and mahi-mahi.


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NOAA Wants $16K for Sea Turtle Documents

All six species of sea turtles in U.S. waters are threatened with extinction -- and we want to know why more isn’t being done to protect them.  The U.S. government wants to charge us an arm and a leg for more information about it. So we filed a lawsuit.

Last March, Oceana submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asking for records relating to trawl gear modifications intended to prevent sea turtle bycatch in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. (The government has still not acted to modify trawl gear to protect sea turtles on much of the East Coast.) In response, NOAA asked Oceana to pay more than $16,000 for the documents.


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Guest Post: Sea Turtles Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Angela Kinsey and Rachael Harris swim with a green sea turtle. © Tim Calver

Guest blogger Angela Kinsey ("The Office") recently joined Oceana in Mexico to swim with sea turtles and film a PSA.

 Sea turtle nesting in the U.S. is still a couple months away, but I just couldn’t wait to write something about my new RBFF (reptilian best friend forever) – the sea turtle.

How’d we get so close? It was actually on a trip to the Mexican Riviera last May with Oceana and my good friend Rachael Harris. There, Oceana took us to swim with sea turtles in the wild and visit injured turtles at Mexico’s only sea turtle hospital – it was a wonderful, moving experience.

We went to Akumal Bay to snorkel with green sea turtles (and a one slightly scary barracuda) and I was struck by how lucky I felt to be able to see them in the wild, eating seagrass and going about their day. Then at the sea turtle hospital, seeing turtles injured by fishing gear, boat propellers and other animals was incredibly emotional.

I grew up overseas and had seen sea turtles before, but swimming with them up close and personal changed my perspective in a powerful way. I’m overwhelmed by how much humans are affecting marine life and in the case of sea turtles, which are very susceptible to impacts from climate change too, I worry that my daughter won’t be able to see them and have the same experience swimming with them that I did. Playing at the beach and in the ocean was such  big part of my childhood and I hope it can be for her too. And folks...our oceans and the marine life livng in them need someone to start looking out for them.


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Morocco Bans Driftnets

© Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Great news in the battle against illegal fishing: Morocco has passed an amendment banning the use, possession, manufacture or sale of driftnets.

Known as “curtains of death,” driftnets are a type of illegal fishing gear that can be nearly 100 feet high and 12 miles long. Because they are so passive and indiscriminate, driftnets snag whatever’s in their path, including many marine mammals and other endangered species.

The UN passed an international moratorium on driftnets 15 years ago, and the EU instituted a ban seven years ago, but many French, Italian and Moroccan vessels have continued using them.


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