We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.
In December, we told you about the launch of an exciting new pilot program called Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership. The program helps endangered sea turtles to thrive in the Atlantic, around the coast of Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
During the four month pilot project, volunteers in Wrightsville, N.C. cataloged and removed trash from the beaches that serve as critical nesting habitat for sea turtles. Turtle volunteers removed a total of 7,209 items of trash across six sea turtle nesting zones. The information they collect helps us to better understand the threats faced by sea turtle hatchlings in order to help come up with solutions that will help them survive.
Let’s face it, sea turtles could use a helping hand.. Did you know that most species of sea turtles are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)? Marine debris is a major threat to sea turtle’s survival. Mistaking trash for food, sea turtles are known to eat plastics and other buoyant debris. Trash can also hinder sea turtles ability to swim, and they’re prone to getting entangled in abandoned lines and netting.
Young sea turtles are especially vulnerable to marine debris. The turtle hatchlings quickly drift in the open sea where they mistake lines of floating debris for seaweed.
If you’re like me, the recent holiday season has erased some of your memory (I think it’s all the sweets), and you may be in need of a refresher on where we left off last year in the Gulf restoration process. Last month, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees released a long-awaited draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This was exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico, because the PEIS is critical for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term and integrated restoration process in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
Ocean Conservancy’s experts have been going through the nearly 2,500-page document with a fine-tooth comb over the last several weeks, and we can now present you with our preliminary views. When the PEIS process started last summer, over 1,000 of our supporters sent messages to the trustees with specific recommendations on what should be included in this document to ensure the Gulf ecosystem is made whole. Let’s see how well the trustees did:
In a significant step forward in restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with the five Gulf states and two federal agencies, announced over $100 million for restoration projects across the Gulf. A total of 22 projects will restore a number of Gulf habitats and species, ranging from coastal dunes in Texas, to oyster reefs in Alabama and shorebird nests in Mississippi.
Funding for these projects comes from the criminal settlement against Transocean and BP, which were finalized late last year. These funds must be used to remedy the harm caused to our natural resources in the Gulf due to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and these are some of the first fine monies to be put toward restoration. (Click here to read more about the ongoing civil trial and what’s at stake.)
We are particularly excited about two projects in Florida that support restoration of offshore Gulf species: enhanced reef fish (think: red snapper) health assessments and turtle-friendly beach lighting. Marine restoration projects like this are part of the comprehensive approach that Ocean Conservancy advocates.
Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.
May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.
The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.
As you may know, all sea turtles in U.S. waters are on the Endangered Species List as either threatened or endangered. Since January 2010, NOAA has observed an increase in marine turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtle deaths can occur for a number of reasons, including disease, exposure to biotoxins or pollutants, ingestion of marine debris, vessel collisions, and fishery interactions. The proposed rule would have required turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all shrimp trawling vessels, including boats that fish in-shore and in shallower waters than those currently required to use TEDs. These in-shore boats, known in the fishing community as skimmer and butterfly trawlers instead have to comply with “tow-time” restrictions, or limits to how long they can keep their nets submerged under water while fishing. Turtles drown when trapped in the nets too long.
NOAA has since withdrawn this proposed rule for multiple reasons, but primarily because the current design of TEDs did not seem to protect turtles effectively.