The Blog Aquatic » sea turtles News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:05:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Victory for Baby Sea Turtles Wed, 09 Apr 2014 11:00:06 +0000 Allison Schutes

Photo: Ellen Splain

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.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership has been a huge success. We are expanding the pilot program to include beaches in 5 more states. With more volunteers on more beaches, Ocean Conservancy can continue protecting sea turtles and fighting for trash free seas.

Thank you for making endangered sea turtles a priority. We couldn’t have done it without you.

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Helping Sea Turtles Never See Marine Debris Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:48:55 +0000 Allison Schutes

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.[1]

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.[2]

Unfortunately, cleaning up debris throughout the entire ocean is an impractical task—there’s just too much of it! But, don’t despair; we have had success removing ocean debris on our beaches, where the sea turtles hatch from their eggs before crawling across the sand to the sea.

I’m sure you’ve seen trash on the beach. It’s not only unpleasant to the eye, but this waste poses a threat to sea turtles in their nesting habitats. Once a sea turtle hatches from its egg, it needs to reach the ocean as quick as possible—tiny sea turtles look like tasty treats to hungry predators!

In addition to trying to avoid predators, sea turtles also have to avoid the obstacle of marine debris – dodging plastic bags and crawling around bottle caps. If snagged, debris on the beach can entangle or trap emerging hatchlings, preventing them from ever reaching the sea.[3]Adult female turtles can also become trapped by beach debris during their attempts to lay a nest, which increases the difficulty of the already arduous nesting process.[4]

A ray of hope for sea turtles—citizen science has emerged as a vital way to protect our environment and ocean. Volunteers, also known as citizen scientists, have been collecting marine debris data for 28 years as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Likewise, sea turtle volunteers perform an array of data collection services that directly aid sea turtle conservation, including beach patrols to check for signs of nesting activity, marking new nests and calculating hatch success rate.


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Lengthy Gulf Restoration Plan Needs to Dive Deeper Mon, 03 Feb 2014 13:00:14 +0000 Kara Lankford

Photo: Blair Witherington

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:

Lots of fishing piers, but not enough fish

While the 44 projects included in this phase of restoration are a big step toward restoring the Gulf, only nine of those projects are truly ecosystem restoration projects. The other 35 are meant to compensate the public for the lost days at the beach, on a fishing pier, or out on a boat in 2010 when oil was still spewing into the Gulf. This means building new boat ramps, fishing piers, and beach boardwalks. The questions remains: Without restoring fish populations, what will we be fishing for on those new piers? In order to restore the public’s use of the Gulf, we must first restore the Gulf itself.

Need to dive deeper

We are also disappointed to see that the offshore environment, where the disaster began, is left out of the picture. The project types listed in this plan do not include restoration of key species and habitats, such as dolphins, seabirds, Sargassum and corals. As you know, dolphins in Barataria Bay are suffering from poor health; deep-water corals are showing signs of oil damage, and Sargassum mats – the floating seaweed that serves as a home for the Gulf’s tiniest creatures, including juvenile sea turtles – were burned during the oil cleanup process. Given this growing list of evidence against BP, we must encourage the trustees to hold them accountable for this damage and include these restoration strategies in this plan.

The release of the draft PEIS is a step in the right direction, and we must urge the trustees to make the necessary changes and additions in order for this to be a truly holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan.

Ocean Conservancy’s goal is to send 1,500 public comments from Gulf state residents to the trustees before the comment period ends on February 19. If you live in the Gulf or know someone who does, please share this message  and help ensure the health of the Gulf ecosystem for generations to come.

For our full analysis of this big legal document, download our assessment.

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A Victory for Fish and Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico Fri, 15 Nov 2013 21:48:26 +0000 Libby Fetherston sea turtle swimming near Florida

Photo: Lisa Kelly, Photo Contest 2013

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.

NFWF, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should be commended for ensuring that the marine resources that make Florida an international tourist destination often recognized as “The Fishing Capital of the World“ are closely monitored and restored.

While the jury is still out on the cumulative impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil and dispersants in the water, supporting recovery of reef fish and sea turtles is a wise investment. In particular, NFWF’s $3 million commitment to additional data collection on the fish and the fishery will aid recovery and foster improved ecosystem understanding and management.

The $1.5 million project to retrofit beachfront lights on or near important nesting habitat in the Florida Panhandle will greatly increase sea turtle survival, as artificial lighting can impair a sea turtle hatchling’s ability to reach the ocean on its own. Since Florida boasts 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting in the continental United States and sea turtles were one of the species hit hard by the oil disaster, this project is good news indeed.

Restoration is a long process and restoration in the marine environment, in particular, is a large and daunting endeavor, but it is critically important for the coastal communities that are dependent upon the beauty and bounty of the Gulf. NFWF and the Gulf states have taken an important step today toward making the Gulf whole.

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Volunteers Help Protect Baby Sea Turtles From Ocean Trash Wed, 01 May 2013 12:30:39 +0000 Allison Schutes baby sea turtle heads toward the surf


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.

While many man-made obstacles—from coastal development and artificial lighting to fishing and hunting—threaten sea turtles, trash is one threat that travels great distances and is present both on land and in the ocean. It is also entirely preventable.

We know that when trash items reach our ocean, they pose a severe ingestion risk for sea turtles, especially given the close resemblance of trash items like floating plastic grocery bags to a sea turtle’s favorite food: jellyfish. However, we don’t know much about the types of interactions sea turtles have with trash while coming ashore to nest.

Unfortunately, much of what we know about the interaction between sea turtles and trash is the result of studying dead and stranded sea turtles. In order to take a more proactive approach to learning about the potential for interaction between nesting sea turtles and trash, Ocean Conservancy is teaming up with the dedicated volunteers of the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project to pilot a new initiative.

Many of these volunteers already pick up trash on their morning turtle walks and even report what they find to Wrightsville Beach Keep It Clean. This season, volunteers will be equipped with an Ocean Conservancy data card for their sunrise turtle walks. The data card will help keep track of the individual trash items collected while patrolling for turtle tracks.

Once we receive these reports about turtle nests and trash, we can overlay the two data layers and start to learn more about the potential interaction turtles have with trash when they come ashore to nest. As we begin to learn more about stretches of beach more likely than others to yield trash-turtle interactions, we can implement mitigation strategies appropriate for that particular municipality or beach community. We are very excited to get this new initiative going and look forward to expanding this project along the East Coast.

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Next Steps for Protecting Sea Turtles Wed, 27 Mar 2013 15:58:53 +0000 Guest Blogger

Last year, my colleague Ivy wrote about a proposed rule by NOAA to make shrimping safer for sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

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.

How is that possible?

The offshore shrimp boats that currently are required to have TEDs on their nets typically fish in deeper waters far away from the coastline. The turtles these boats encounter are generally adults and won’t get trapped in the back of the net thanks to the TED’s metal bars. However, the skimmer trawls fish in shallower waters, where juvenile turtles live. These juveniles are small enough to pass through the metal bars on the TED, get trapped at the back of the net, and potentially drown. To see how TEDs help turtles escape from nets, check out this video.

A 2012 NOAA study found that approximately 60% of the observed sea turtle captures in the skimmer trawl fishery were small enough to pass through the metal bars and could be susceptible to drowning without tow-time restrictions. NOAA stated that it couldn’t remove the tow-time restrictions, which are currently the only turtle protections in place, and replace them with TEDS that would not exclude small turtles from the shrimp nets.

Well, what’s wrong with the tow-time restrictions? To investigate the increased sea turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico, NOAA deployed scientifically trained observers to document sea turtle interactions within the northern Gulf’s skimmer trawl fleet. Previous studies have shown that tow-times aren’t effective. They are difficult to enforce — some peer-reviewed scientific literature suggests the tow-times are too long to avoid injury to sea turtles, and fisherman don’t follow them. However, increased observations on skimmer trawls in 2012 found that even with an observer on-board, over 64% of the tows exceeded the 55-minute limit.

Skimmer tow times relative to seasonal tow time restriction based on mandatory observer coverage of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico skimmer trawl fishery from May through August 2012

Scientists often assume that fishermen are extra diligent following rules like these when fisheries observers are on board. It’s like slowing your car down to the speed limit when a police officer is driving next to you on the road. In other words, the poor score of 35% compliance is probably even lower in the vast majority of the fleet when an observer isn’t on board.
So what happens now? NOAA has a two-fold plan:

Research: Rather than acting reactively after an observed increase in turtle deaths in the spring, NOAA is now proactively initiating aerial and on-water surveys before the 2013 shrimping season begins. NOAA will also continue to study interactions between turtles and the skimmer trawling fleet by continuing to place observers on skimmer trawls to determine the average amount of turtle interactions during a shrimping season. NOAA is also researching and developing new TEDs that will work for the smaller turtles typically found in shallower waters without clogging the fishermen’s nets with debris or causing a large loss in production.

Outreach and Education: NOAA will also provide more outreach and education to skimmer trawl fishermen about the existence and importance of complying with tow time requirements.

Following these research and outreach efforts, NOAA will present these findings and reconsider potential rule-making in the next couple of years. According to NOAA, the bottom line is that TED regulations will be coming to replace tow-time restrictions; at this point it’s not a question of if, but when.

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Ocean Conservancy and Causes: Turning Awareness into Action Thu, 27 Dec 2012 22:48:48 +0000 Guest Blogger


“Changing the world is a lot easier when you’ve got the right tools.” That’s the motto of Causes, a web platform that provides free and easy tools for individuals and nonprofitsto spread the word, find support, raise money, and build momentum for their cause and make an impact in the world.

And it’s working. So far, over 170 million people have taken action for over 500,000 unique causes. The Causes community doesn’t just take action–they start movements by asking their friends and family to join them. Every campaign on Causes is automatically integrated with Facebook’s custom open graph, which means that actions are easily shared via Timeline and newsfeed. The ability for supporters to tweet, email, and post a Facebook status update is a click away on every campaign page.

Ocean Conservancy is running a campaign powered by Causes to turn awareness into action in protecting baby sea turtle nesting grounds along the Gulf of Mexico. The peer-to-peer sharing on Causes makes it easy for our own community to get the word out about our work. Our petition to support a nesting ground restoration project received over 20,000 signatures in fewer than two weeks.

Thanks to the support of our Causes community and an additional 10,000 supporters who signed their name on, this was one of our most successful petitions ever. After exceeding our goal of 30,000 petition signatures to support sea turtle nesting ground restoration, the project has officially been approved for funding.

Join our Causes community today to interact with Ocean Conservancy in a whole new way. Choose your favorite action, or do both!

1. Take our sea turtle quiz to find out how much you know about these incredible animals.
2. Donate to Ocean Conservancy to support our work helping sea turtles and all ocean wildlife.

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