No time to lose as thousands of sea turtles are dying

A recent report by the BBC News was that 900 sea turtles had washed up dead on the shores of Southern India. This coming after over 1,100 turtles died in the same area over the month of January. According to the report, the Olive Ridley turtles were killed by illegal trawling fisherman who were not using specialized equipment to prevent drawing of turtles (known as Turtle Excluding Devices, or TEDs). The event is horrific, and I am sure most will be quick to place all of the blame on irresponsible fisherman. But there is much more to this story than that.

 

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Dead sea turtles being removed from the beaches of India, February 2014. Photo from www.BBC.com/news

Turtle Exclusion Devices were invented in the 1970’s, and became widely used over the 1980’s in many places around the world. In fact, even in India the equipment has been required since 1996. Essentially a TED is a crate over the mouth of the trawling net which the turtle cannot fit through and gets stuck against, below the crate is an opening in the net which the turtle can then swim out of. Although the device is relatively inexpensive, often it is not properly used, or its use not properly enforced. Some examples of problems with the TEDs include:

  • Some turtles are too large to exist through the opening, and are still drowned
  • Some turtles do not find the opening to exist in time
  • Many fisherman believe the TED will cause them to also loose commercially important species, and so either sew closed the opening or don’t use the devices at all
  • Due to the increased cost of the device, there is no incentive for fisherman to use them. If enforcement is not strict then they do not get used.
  • The TED can become clogged with trash or debris and fail to function

 

Sea turtle deaths on Koh Tao are often caused by the consumption of marine debris, such as this green sea turtle in 2009.

Sea turtle deaths on Koh Tao are often caused by the consumption of marine debris, such as this green sea turtle in 2009.

But even beyond all of these failings, is the fact that the real problem is the pressure on fisherman to maximize catches, disregard sustainability, and encroach on marine protected areas. Trawling is an extremely destructive method of fishing, and I am sure that one day future generations will look back on us in disgust for even thinking it was ok. The exponential rate of human population growth, combined with rising standards of living and urbanization are putting more and more pressure on the ecosystems where our food comes from. Far from infinite, our planets oceans are quickly being depleted as fisherman work harder and harder to keep up with demand. Despite the benefits of devices such as TEDs, unless we change our view of the ocean’s resources there is nothing we can do to ensure their survival. Mass die offs are only a small percentage of what is happening to our planets turtles, sharks, whales, corals, and every other marine animal (with the exception of jellyfish, they are thriving).

 

How can we expect to continually be taking fish out of the sea to feed 7 billion people when the only thing we put back in the sea is pollution, trash, chemicals, and radiation? If we are going to continue our desire to consume so much seafood then we need to seriously start implementing sustainable aquaculture, artificial reefs and fish aggregation devices, scientifically based breeding and nursery programs, and restoring important mangrove and coral reef ecosystems.

 

Most people living in cities would think it barbaric to hunt wildlife for food this day and age, when we can commercially maintain cattle and chicken farms. But why is it that those same people have no objection to taking wild fish from the sea instead of focusing on farmed species that are not taken from the wild? Like wildlife on land, fish in the ocean have a value more than just economic, they play a higher role in the cycle of nature and the survival of marine ecosystems. They are part of a whole which is much more than the sum of its parts. As long as we keep looking at the sea as if it is infinite, or worse, no different than a cattle or chicken farm that is just there for our taking, then problems like the death of these 900 endangered sea turtles will continue to occur. Until, of course, one of our species is gone.

 

Other mass die offs of marine life this month:

February 2014

Feb. 26th – 10 million scallops die in Vancouver, Canada

Feb. 26th – 900 + sea turtles die in Andhra Pradesh, India

Feb 25th – 100 dolphins, turtles, sea lions, and sea birds along the coast of Peru

Feb. 24th – Thousands of dead crabs and other marine species wash up in Antofagasta, Chile

Feb. 24th – 600+ Sea Birds in Jersey, UK

Feb 23rd – 15,000 sea birds found dead in the last month along the coast of France

Feb. 21st – Thousands of fish washing up along the beaches of Spain

Feb. 18th – 100 tons of dead fish found along the banks of Brazil

Feb. 18th – hundreds of dead fish along the coast of Spain

Feb. 13th – 160 tons of dead fish was up along Johor straits, Singapore

Feb 11th – 9 Orca Whales dead near New Zealand

Feb 11th – mass die off of shrimp and fish due to red tide in China

Feb. 6th – 10,000 + fish dead in VAsse Estuary in Australia

Feb 5th – 12 Albatross found dead in New Zealand

Feb. 4th– 1,122+ turtles during January found dead on the beaches of Andhra Pradesh, India

Feb. 3rd – 400+ Dolphins wash ashore in Peru

Feb. 3rd – Millions of sea stars dying off the west coast of the US

 

That’s just February. The time to start acting to change this situation was decades ago. We cannot afford to lose any more time in this battle as we race to protect our planet’s oceans. Please help do what you can, wherever you live.

  • Reduce your consumption of seafood
  • Choose farmed fish and shrimp sources over wild caught
  • Do not consume top predators (this will protect your health from Methyl Mercury as well)
  • Choose environmentally friendly businesses, especially while traveling to marine areas
  • Contribute your time or money to group’s actively protecting or restoring our oceans, or start your own group.
  • Spread the word

 

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