The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sea Turtles

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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Oceana Joins National Aquarium for Sea Turtle Release

kemp's ridley sea turtle

A rehabilitated Kemp's ridley sea turtle is released back into the wild. © Oceana/Dustin Cranor

Yesterday was an exciting day for 5 rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Last November, the endangered sea turtles were found stranded on the beaches of Massachusetts after having fallen victim to cold stunning, which is essentially sea turtle hypothermia.

They were immediately transported to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where they received medical attention at the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP). After more than six months of rehabilitation, the sea turtles were finally deemed healthy enough to survive on their own.

MARP staff and members of the public gathered on the shore of Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park to bid farewell to the rehabbed turtles. Oceana was also there to help out, and campaign director Beth Lowell personally released Rudolph, one of the sea turtles re-entering the open ocean.


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Bad News, Good News for the Oceans

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s start with the bad:

In a new report released this week, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warns that ocean life is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

The preliminary report from IPSO is the result of the first-ever interdisciplinary international workshop examining the combined impact of all of the stressors currently affecting the oceans, including pollution, warming, ocean acidification, overfishing and hypoxia.

It turns out that the confluence of overfishing, pollution and climate change is worse than previously thought, as Oceana’s Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist Mike Hirshfield explains to CBS News in this clip:

OK, now for the good news: Juliet Eilperin reports that despite all the aforementioned threats facing the oceans, some areas still teem with life, such as the eastern Pacific’s California Current.


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Gulf Shrimpers to Blame for Record-High Sea Turtle Deaths

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

Sea turtles have had a rough year. In 2010, more than 600 sea turtles were found either dead or injured on Gulf of Mexico shores, and 563 have already washed up just halfway into 2011.

This sudden spike in sea turtle mortality is due in part to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf in April, but Oceana has recently discovered that someone else may be to blame: the Gulf shrimp fishery.

Oceana recently found that the fishery is not currently required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which spare most sea turtles from getting caught and drowning in their skimmer trawls used for catching shrimp. This lack of proper regulation, coupled with the fishery’s noncompliance or ignorance of TED requirements for other types of trawls, has led to the enormous number of recent sea turtle deaths.

What you might not know is that under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorizes fisheries to injure or kill a specific number of sea turtles. More than 98 percent of all sea turtle interactions authorized to U.S. fisheries are given to the shrimp fishery.


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Carter and Olivia Ries

This is the seventh in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

I’ve spent the last week telling you about our adult Ocean Hero finalists, and now it’s time to spotlight the younger set -- our inspiring junior finalists.

First up are 10-year-old Carter and 8-year-old Olivia Ries, who have been involved in saving the planet for an impressive portion of their young lives. In late 2009 they started their own nonprofit organization “One More Generation” (OMG), whose goal is to raise awareness about endangered species around the world.

In 2010, OMG created the following video:


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Zander Srodes

Zander Srodes with a leatherback sea turtle.

This is the third in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.    

The featured finalist today is Zander Srodes, who, at age 11, created “Turtle Talks,” an interactive workshop and activity book that teaches kids about sea turtle conservation.

Ten years later, more than 200,000 of Zander’s “Turtle Talks” books have been printed and sent to six continents, from Cuba to Mozambique, and it has been translated into several languages, including Tamil and Telugu. 

“I hope [Turtle Talks] will have a significant impact of the biodiversity of our planet,” Zander said via e-mail. “Turtle Talks promotes the message to youngsters that they are the generation that needs to become advocates for these charismatic reptiles.”

Recently Zander has expanded his sea turtle conservation efforts through eco-tourism. Last summer he hosted two groups of college students on service trips to Costa Rica, where they worked with local organizations that are preserving leatherback sea turtles.


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Where Are They Now?: Casey Sokolovic

Casey Sokolovic with her specialty: sea turtle cookies.

We are now accepting nominations for our third annual Ocean Heroes Contest! Today we’re catching up with one of our favorites, sea turtle activist Casey Sokolovic.

Casey might look familiar - we can’t get enough of her ever since she was a nominee in the first annual Ocean Heroes contest in 2009. She’s now 13, but her parents say she still isn’t allowed to have a cell phone. Judging by all of her activities, she probably doesn’t have time to chat on the phone anyway…

Last year she had an internship at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island, NC. She helped with the care of the injured turtles and video blogged her experiences at her website, loveaseaturtle.com.

That’s not all. She’s also busy giving school presentations about sea turtles, and participating at camps with Boys and Girls Clubs in North Carolina. She says she really wants to inspire other kids to help, too.

We are, as ever, inspired by Casey’s dedication to sea turtles. Thanks, Casey!

Nominations end April 27, so don’t delay -- nominate an ocean hero in your life today!


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Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris at Sea Turtle Symposium

Rachael Harris, actress and sea turtle advocate.

Oceanography legend Jacques Cousteau once said “The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” This spellbound wonder is certainly true for our fascination with the 7 species of sea turtles that have inhabited the world’s oceans for four million years and, sadly, which are all now threatened or endangered with extinction. These awe-inspiring ocean reptiles were the focus of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego.

Actress and sea turtle advocate Rachael Harris (“The Hangover”) presented at our Friday reception. She shared a special connection she made with a green sea turtle named Esmeralda while touring a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Mexico with Oceana last year.

Harris was captivated by how expressive Esmeralda was despite her flippers being mutilated after becoming entangled in fishing line and being attacked by a dog while on a beach to nest. Harris’ enthusiastic support for sea turtle protections is shared by fellow sea turtle advocate Angela Kinsey (“The Office”). The two will storm the nation’s capitol in early May to educate Congress about why we need to get turtles off the hook and the need for more sea turtle protections throughout our nation’s waters.  


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Studies Begin to Reveal Effects of Gulf Oil Spill

Caesar grunts, damselfish and amberjacks in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

A week from today marks the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and the effects of the spill on the gulf’s ecosystems and wildlife are beginning to come into view, though the full effects won’t be understood for years.

This week the New York Times published an overview of the latest findings. The good news is that although miles of marsh are still oiled and tar balls continue to wash up on beaches, the Gulf of Mexico can thank its oil-eating bacteria for digesting some of the crude oil and the methane gas.

Not all the news is so good, however. Here are some of the latest findings about Gulf wildlife:


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