Plastic debris has become as ubiquitous to U.S. beaches as sand, surf, and shells. Every year, cleanup crews through the country collect millions of pounds of plastic trash from beaches and coastal waterways, with the most coming from California’s 1,100-mile coastline.
We’re happy to announce a victory for sea turtles in the Atlantic this week.
The scallop fishery has long been a threat to sea turtles, who get caught up and drowned in the heavy equipment. Scallops are often collected by dredges— heavy metal nets attached to a flat scoop that drags along the ground, collecting everything large enough to fit in the net. These dredges are hazards in sea turtle habitats, where they catch, drag, and drown sea turtles along with the desired scallops.
All six sea turtle species in the United States are threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, making these deaths all the more tragic.
Fortunately, there’s a new type of gear that includes something called a Turtle Deflector Device (TDD). With a TDD, dredges can push sea turtles out of harm’s way instead of pulling them into the nets.
This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced new regulations for the Atlantic scallop fishery that will require TDDs in areas and during times when sea turtles are known to be present.
We are excited about these new rules, which will save many sea turtle lives.
Gib Brogan, our Northeast representative, said that “Oceana is relieved that after 10 years of requests, NMFS has finally taken action to reduce the scallop fishery’s deadly interaction with threatened sea turtles. We support TDDs as a solution to sea turtle bycatch in the scallop fishery and commend the industry and its research partners for their work to develop this new gear.”
Last week the U.S. government issued bittersweet news for loggerhead sea turtles.
First, the good news: After almost four years of debate, the government decided to upgrade Pacific loggerhead sea turtles to “endangered” from “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The bad news is that Atlantic loggerhead turtles will still be considered “threatened,” despite the recommendations of the government’s own scientists.
Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Meanwhile, Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998.
In 2009, a team of government scientists published a report that classified both populations of loggerhead turtles as “currently at risk of extinction.” In other words, the government dismissed its own scientists’ conclusions about Northwest Atlantic loggerheads.
The government’s review of loggerhead status was prompted in 2007 by petitions from Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which asked the government to enforce stronger protections for loggerheads and their habitats.
Unfortunately, the government has also postponed measures that would establish critical loggerhead habitats, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding areas in the ocean.
We’re making progress, but as you can see, there’s still a long way to go. We’ll continue working to protect sea turtles – and you can help. Tell your representative to save sea turtles from extinction.
From CNN.com on Monday:
"We can see the beaches; we can see the dead animals; we can get a count on turtles and whales and all this stuff -- and all of that is eye-level observation," said [Ed] Overton, a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University and a veteran of oil-spill science.
"What we don't know is what damage is done ... to little creatures down below the surface -- or just at the surface -- that we never see."