Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on December 13th, 2013
This guest post by Carole H. Allen, Gulf Office Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project (www.seaturtles.org) was presented online by Mitch Merry of the Endangered Species Coalition.
In 1906, Richard Kemp spotted a sea turtle on a Florida beach and later had the honor of adding his name to its identification. Years passed with little attention paid to the Kemp's ridley until June, 1947, when Andres Herrera made an amateur movie that documented, for the first time, an arribada (arrival) of Kemp's ridleys-some 42,000 females nesting in a single day at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Villagers excavated most of those nests, however, and harvested some 80 to 90 percent of the eggs that were laid. Decades later, though, the ridleys faced almost certain extinction; between 1978 and 1991, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) estimated that only 200 Kemp's ridleys were nesting annually.
My personal involvement with the ridleys began in 1982, when, as a volunteer, I took elementary school students to Galveston to see hatchlings being raised in a desperate attempt to save the species. The students organized HEART (Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles) and began to work for the ridleys. Always my most powerful volunteers, students have written letters to legislators calling for turtle excluder device (TED) regulations and enforcement of laws protecting ridleys, and have pooled their nickels and dimes to buy food for hatchlings. Thousands of children have visited the Galveston facility, creating a higher level of public awareness about the killing of sea turtles-particularly by the shrimping industry.
As the Mexican government protected the ridleys' nesting beaches and officers in the Gulf of Mexico enforced TED regulations, populations of Kemp's ridleys began to grow. Things were looking good for the ridleys-so much so that the joint United States-Mexico recovery plan predicted a 19 percent population increase from 2010 to 2020 that would lead to a down-listing under the Endangered Species Act. But that was too good to be true.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of ridleys were killed in the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Nest numbers dropped in Tamaulipas and Texas in 2010, and again in 2013. The NMFS has backed away from requiring TEDs on skimmer trawls, and Louisiana refuses to enforce TED regulations in their state waters, placing thousands of turtles in jeopardy. Sadly, each March and April, as shrimping activity increases along the Texas coast, dead adult female ridleys-the most valuable of all-wash ashore. Why not declare a closure to shrimping for the nesting season?
Research confirms that ridleys are migrating and foraging along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. With the need for additional "safe zones" for nesting for the ridleys, the opposition of US Fish and Wildlife to allow the hatching of eggs and releasing of hatchlings where the nests are found on the Upper Texas Coast is unfortunate. Critical habitat is declared for other sea turtle species; why not more habitat protections for Kemp's ridleys?
Although the Kemp's ridley population revived from near-extinction 25 years ago, it seems to be losing ground. Will we allow this to happen, or will we step up to enforce existing laws and put in place new ones where they are needed? If we don't demand action, nothing will be done.
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on November 22nd, 2013
New scientific research has confirmed fears of the global impacts of marine plastic pollution to marine life and marine ecosystems. Plastic does adsorb toxic PCBs, PBDEs and PAHs* from seawater and does transfer toxicity from adsorbed chemicals to fish that ingest them, found a new study published in Nature yesterday. Experimental fish were fed a “clean” diet, a diet with bits of virgin plastic, or a diet with bits of plastic that had adsorbed contaminants while suspended in a marine environment near San Diego, California. Toxicologists then dissected the fish and determined that there was a significant transfer of PBDEs to the fish tissue from the plastic that had adsorbed marine contaminants, and that the livers of some fish developed cellular damage. This controlled experiment confirmed the discussions I have been leading for years on the potential eco-toxic impacts of marine plastic pollution to young, endangered sea turtles.
Plastic can be a vector for increased pollutant exposure to fish, and likely sea turtles and other marine wildlife, but how bad is the overall contamination of plastic in the Pacific Ocean?
According to researchers in Japan, chemical plastic pollution has permeated into seawater and beach sand across the Pacific Ocean Basin. These researchers analyzed raw seawater and sand samples, they did not go hunting for plastic. The natural environment across the Pacific Basin has detectible plastic pollution at the microscopic level, and these small particles and molecular compounds are much more bio-available to organisms than large marine debris we remove during beach cleanups.
So what are we to do about all this toxic plastic?
The problem starts when individual consumers and industry engineers choose plastic products and drive their creation! If behaviors change, plastic production can decrease. Once a plastic bottle or shipping container is created, it must be recovered and properly re-captured so that it’s end-of-life is not litter in the environment or landfill. When plastic is litter there is no evidence it ever “goes away,” in fact, the new research proves that when it breaks down to small pieces it results in global contamination and poisoning of wildlife. Solving the problem of marine plastic pollution will take a global sea change in the behaviors of industry and individuals, and can be driven by public resource trust laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act in the US.
Endangered sea turtles around the world are being killed by industrial fishing, poached and murdered on nesting beaches, and are under serious stress from marine plastic pollution and other major impacts to their essential habitats.
Taking action to save sea turtles means changing your behavior! Stop supporting industrial fishing, join an ecotour to help support beach protections, and stop using disposable plastic and supporting the business that do.
Rochman, C.M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T. & Teh, S.J. Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Sci. Rep. 3, 3263; DOI:10.1038/srep03263 (2013).
K. Saido, 1.6 - Ocean Contamination Generated from Plastics, In Comprehensive Water Quality and Purification, edited by Satinder Ahuja, Elsevier, Waltham, 2014, Pages 86-97, ISBN 9780123821836, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-382182-9.00005-0. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123821829000050)
Posted by Todd Steiner, Executive Director on July 31st, 2013
On the very day that actions around the world delivered a petition with 137,000 signatures demanding justice for Jairo, Costa Rican police authorities conducted a series of raids on the Caribbean coast, arresting eight persons believed to be involved with the brutal murder of Jairo Mora Sandoval, a Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist.
The arrests come two months after Sandoval and four women were kidnapped while patrolling the beach for nesting leatherback sea turtles. The four women were robbed, but escaped and called police.
Six men and one woman were arrested, and one suspect is still at large. Police claim they are part of a organized gang involved in robberies and rape of tourists and other local citizens, and that cell phones taken from the victims were recovered.
Activists associated with Mora dispute that robbery was the prime motive and note that Mora had previously been threatened by members of an organized egg poaching ring, possibly also involved in narco-trafficing.
The timing of the raids also come on the same week actions are being held in eight countries. In the US, 137,000 petition signatures were delivered to Costa Rica consulates in Los Angeles and Houston by SeaTurtles.org, the Center for Biological Diversity and local activists.
We are relieved that arrests have been made, but we remain vigilant to ensure that right people have been arrested, and are brought to justice.
During my time working with Turtle Island Restoration Network as a sea turtle conservation intern, California has shown me some incredible things that I would of otherwise never have experienced in Illinois. Amongst the coastal mountains, I’ve watched black-tailed deer graze (we only have white-tails in Illinois and no mountains to speak of). I’ve seen orchards of citrus trees and fields of strawberries (as opposed to our rows of corn and soybeans), and this past Tuesday I saw California’s greatest treasure: the Pacific Ocean. It was time to put months of training and education to use and jump onboard a Leatherback Watch Program expedition into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
In perhaps the best intern-bonding yet, the other TIRN interns and I traveled to Moss Landing to join a whale watching trip with Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Monterey Bay. It’s a long trek from Marin County to Monterey Bay, so we left at 6:30 to make our 10 AM departure. Luckily for the other interns, I keep tabs of all the Starbucks within a 20-mile radius, so we were able to get some caffeine coursing through our veins to wake us up. Once we had our coffee we were fully awake and amped for our trip!
Upon arrival at the harbor in Moss Landing I was immediately impressed with the beautiful sight of all the boats lined up in the marina, but even they couldn’t prepare me for what I was about to see. Conditions were calm and clear, a perfect day to try and spot an endangered Pacific leatherbacks sea turtle and for whale watching! Just a few miles offshore, Kate, the naturalist on board, said there was activity ahead. A few minutes later we were surrounded by hundreds of dolphins! Kate informed us that they were Risso’s and Pacific white-sided dolphins. We followed them for quite some time when all of a sudden we saw a whale up ahead! We were able to watch a juvenile humpback play with kelp all the while swimming by dolphins. We even saw it breach! Even though the humpback was only a juvenile it was still HUGE. Apparently baby humpbacks are 15 feet long at birth. That’s three times my height! Humpbacks travel with their moms until they’re about a year old, so this juvenile was at least that old since it was traveling by itself.
Between the humpback, the dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, and elephant seals that I saw, we all had a very eventful trip. I was able to make an announcement to the entire crew and all the passengers about the efforts of the Leatherback Watch Program, and many people signed up to receive more information and email updates from SeaTurtles.org. After I gave the announcement they even let me sit in the captain’s chair! It was definitely a defining moment in my life. The only disappointment was not seeing a leatherback. Sightings are rare due to the fact that leatherback populations in the Pacific have decreased 95% since 1980. The crew of Blue Ocean Whale Watch, however, has seen many leatherbacks already this year and they definitely had their eyes peeled hoping they could spot one for me. I wish I could join them out on the water again on another one of the Leatherback Watch Program trips, but I must return to Illinois where there is no ocean and definitely no leatherbacks. I am so glad I got to explore the Pacific Ocean while I was out here in California!
As I commence this new adventure in Marin County, I marvel at the fact of working directly with an organization that advocates for sea turtle protection. Having loved sea turtles from a young age, this new internship is a milestone in my life and career. What a better way to start my summer than working in sea turtle conservation?!
My first couple weeks have been full of knowledge and excitement. For Endangered Species day, Chris Pincetich and I traveled to San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences to share our conservation projects supporting recovery of endangered coho salmon and sea turtles. Recently, Sea Turtle Restoration Project had a Sea Turtle Art Benefit at Low Tide Club in Sausalito where all types of artwork were displayed for new and continuing supporters. It was great to see great people come out for a great cause. I am looking forward to more events to promote sea turtle protection laws and advocacy.
About myself: I am a recent graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a BA in Politics: International Relations and a minor in Language Studies. Being able to use my political background and my love of communications, it is my goal as the Development and Communications Intern to provide support and research funders and donors for our projects, efforts, and overall mission. Go Sea Turtles!
Posted by Sea Turtle Restoration Project Staff on June 6th, 2013
Last week Friday, 26-year old Costa Rican environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval was kidnapped and killed while on a routine patrol to protect leatherback sea turtle eggs from local poachers. Sandoval, along with three young women from the United States and another from Spain were kidnapped by five masked men carrying rifles as they inspected leatherback nesting sites on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast.
The five conservation workers were taken to an abandoned home where Mora was separated from the women. The next morning his body was found on Moín beach, bound and beaten. According to the latest news from Costa Rica’s English language Tico Times, Mora died from head trauma and asphyxiation from sand.
Mora worked for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network(WIDECAST) at Moín, a beach near the town of Limon, monitoring the beach for leatherback sea turtles. The turtle eggs are thought to be an aphrodisiac and poachers can steal as many as 200 eggs in a night where they are then sold at local bars for about $1 each. Nest monitoring patrols and public awareness campaigns conducted by groups like WIDECAST have proven effective in reducing egg poaching and usually the mere presence of observers on beaches is often enough to scare off poachers.
But in the past year poachers on the Caribbean coast have posed a greater threat.
Just last month, Mora posted on his Facebook page that he had placed a call for help to authorities after a night of poaching raids, writing: “Send messages to the police so they come to Moín beach … Tell them not to be afraid but to come armed… 60 turtles lost and there wasn’t even a single nest… we need help and fast.”
In April of last year, similar threatening encounters occurred as a group of turtle defenders who were monitoring nests were ambushed and tied up by masked men who stole a large clutch of eggs. After that, Mora and the director of WIDECAST, Vanessa Lizano, were sometimes followed by men on motorbikes carrying AK-47s. “He was held up at gunpoint, and they told him to back off and stop the walks,” Lizano told the Tico Times. “That was his first warning, and I guess his last.”
Tragic happenings like this will unfortunately also bring tragic consequences for the environment and the organizations working for its protection. Because most hands-on sea turtle conservation projects are run by non-governmental organizations, they are dependent on tourist volunteers to help conduct beach surveillance. The murder of a local conservationist and the kidnapping of international tourists is already impacting that work. Patrols at the site have been shut down and ecotourists and volunteers have cancelled upcoming reservations.
Costa Rica, has built its reputation as a mecca for ecotourism, as a nation committed to the protection of the environment, and as a safe place for tourists to visit. Tourism is one of the major drivers of Costa Rica’s economy, attracting around 2 million visitors a year, and revenues of approximately $2 billion, more than the value of the export of coffee and bananas combined. The sea turtle conservation model is critical to protecting nesting beaches and for the sake of the ecology and economy of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican government must bring the murderers to justice assuring everyone that Costa Rica beaches are safe for sea turtles and people.
So far Costa Rican authorities have pledged to find Mora’s murderers. Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro says the government is considering making Moín Beach a protected area. “We will be using the proposal submitted by WIDECAST in order to formulate a plan for the creation of a protected area where Jairo worked,” Castro said.
We at the Sea Turtle Restoration Project have organized a coalition of organizations who are contributing to a REWARD FUND for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers. The Justice for Jairo Reward Fund is expected to grow as more organizations and individuals learn about this heinous crime and want to help. Individuals can contribute to the reward fund at www.SeaTurtles.org/Donateforjustice
Several petitions, which together already have gathered more than 10,000 signatures in the past few days, are aimed at Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, calling for swift and decisive action to bring the perpetrators to justice. You can sign the petitions here.
When I was just three years old, my mother took me to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. When I came across the large saltwater tank I became completely enamored with the giant sea turtle gliding through the water. The only way Mom could get me away from the tank without kicking and screaming was to buy me a toy turtle from the gift shop. I fell in love with turtles that day, and since then this love has only grown. It is my love of turtles that brings me here to TIRN. While all of my friends were deciding what financial internships they wanted to do or which university they wanted to do clinical research at, I went to Google and simply searched “sea turtle internships.” Seaturtles.org was one of the first websites to come up. Whether it’s fate or just dumb luck, I’m not sure. But I do know that I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to come out here to the San Francisco area to learn more about conservation, sea turtles, and the non-profit sector. In just three days I have already learned more about sea turtles than I have in the past twenty years. Not only have I learned about them, but I’ve even begun to create school curriculum to teach children about the Leatherback Sea Turtle, the newly declared marine reptile of California. Not only do I get to help create this curriculum, but I am also working on the Leatherback Watch Program, which enlists the help of volunteers to document when and where Leatherbacks are being sighted off the coast. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to help sea turtles in this way. When I started looking into turtle internships I was concerned that nobody would want me because I’m not a Biology major. But here I get to save sea turtles by using the skills I’ve developed through my Communication Studies major at Vanderbilt. Talk about my dream job! Coming all the way to California to work at TIRN was certainly a risk, but one that I’m glad I took. Growing up in Normal, IL (yes, it really is called Normal and no, it really isn’t normal) and attending school in Nashville, TN makes California seem like a foreign country. First of all, I didn’t know what mountains looked like until I looked down on the four-hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco. Second of all, my research tells me there are mountain lions near the office. Thirdly, I have never seen a place that was so sunny, but so cold. These, amongst other things, are what make this internship such an adventure!
Day three of summer in West Marin County and I wake to the sound of songbirds and sunlight peeking in through the window. A modern day Cinderella, I lay still for a second as I watch a deer graze less than 50 feet from the house. The bike ride to work is no less impressive as I follow a winding country road to the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) headquarters. Located on Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the office is surrounded with the redwoods of Northern California and in fact, Lagunitas Creek behind the office, is home to Coho salmon smolt.
Originally from Eastern Washington, I moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. Now a junior majoring in Environmental Studies and International Relations, I knew I wanted a summer experience engaged in both fields. Here at Sea Turtle Restoration Project, I found just that. Working under the guidance of biologists, outreach coordinators, and other experienced non-profit staff, I tackle local and international legislation enforcing laws to protect these creatures from countless threats like plastic bags or fisheries. Additionally, future work will focus on developing educational resources for local schools to implement into their curriculum.
Recently STRP partnered with local middle school students providing me with the opportunity to teach them field work methodology in creating their own Marine Debris Action Team project. Because sea turtles and other wildlife mistake smaller particles for food or become entangled in larger pieces of litter, plastic debris is one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems. Long-term data collection could supply us with a better understanding of local ‘hotspots’ where greater amounts of debris are present. Such patterns could potentially help us focus our efforts to create the biggest impact possible. What’s more is that, any beach cleanups like this also help improve overall water quality for Pacific Leatherbacks that feed on jellyfish found off the West Coast.
While this summer has just begun, there is no doubt in my mind that it will continue to be a spectacular learning experience, putting my academic knowledge to work and strengthening my professional background. Surrounded by vivid greenery and hardworking people, my summer holds plenty of potential and I see it unfolding into a wonderful adventure.
Kari Gehrke with female Green nesting turtle going back to the ocean.
This summer I was able to go to Costa Rica and work with Green sea turtles in Tortuguero. Also while I was there I was able to do my own research on if plastics found on the beach had any affect on sea turtle nesting. I was there for three months and had an amazing time. I loved working with the turtles and being able to go to a different country.
After I got back form Costa Rica I wanted to look for what might be my next step into doing what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I looked around my area and was only able to find one organization that worked with sea turtles. That is what made me start my internship at seaturtles.org.
I am a senior in college and about to graduate. I want to work with sea turtles as my main job and I want to work with them in the water. I’m not to sure what I exactly want to do so far but I do know that I want to work with them in the water. My next move after college is to take a year off of going to school and get more field work in working with sea turtles. After this I also plan on starting my PhD work at a school that has a sea turtle graduate program. I hope this all works out for me and I am excited to get it done.
Teal showing some turtle love at SailFest 2012! Photo: Kristyn Jensen.
People always ask me, why sea turtles? What makes you love them so much? And despite the fact that they have outlived the dinosaurs, are an important keystone species for our ecosystem, are greatly endangered, and amazingly cute, there is something deep in me that knows that they are my love. After having experience in eighth grade in Baja, Mexico tagging turtles in the Sea of Cortez, and then spending four years studying biology, I guess you could say I have found my passion.
But after graduating, we are all faced with the question of what do we do now? It took me a little while to remember this dream of mine from the eighth grade to go into sea turtle conservation, and even still I was held back by not knowing how to get into this world of sea turtle advocacy… Until I found the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. After writing to them expressing how much I loved sea turtles, and that I would move across the state to come work with this group, they offered me the opportunity to come work for them here in Marin County, and I have been so happy with it.
Even though I have only been here a month, I have already experienced and learned so much about what it takes to run a non-profit, and it has opened my mind to how much there really is to learn and do to protect sea turtles! I feel like I have actually gotten to make a difference, whether it is responding to school kids letters, or researching scientific articles on Hawaiian turtles, or helping to create policy that could change the whole system of how fishing industries work, it has been so rewarding. I recommend anyone looking to jump-start their career in sea turtle biology, or just someone with a great passion for learning more about non-profits. Plus, the staff is super friendly and accommodating, which is really great to have such great support behind all of these projects.
A beautiful hawksbill swimming along a coral reef inspires action to protect pristine ocean habitats! Photo: (C)Doug Perrine/SeaPics.com
This summer I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in their northern California headquarters office. Walking into work the first day was nerve-racking, but this anxiousness quickly dissipated after I met the friendly staff members and with the realization of all the good that this small organization was doing for sea turtles worldwide. And I cannot wait to be a part of it.
I was born and bred in the bustling of the northeast (about 45 minutes south of New York), and I have constantly been surrounded by friends and family in the business industry. As an undergrad student in Pennsylvania, I was the exception, majoring in environmental studies, as opposed to finance, accounting, and economics. In fact, there were less than 10 environmental studies majors in my graduating class of about 1200! It makes me smile to think about the road that I have taken. The fact is that we really can make a difference, but we need far more people to get on board.
Following my desire to pursue a career in conservation of marine life, I moved to Miami to attend the University of Miami and work towards a master's of science in Marine Affairs & Policy. Surrounded by students with different passions ranging from sharks to marine mammals to billfish and beyond, it was here that I found my passion as well: Sea Turtles. Finally, I was not alone!
Although I was encouraged to join the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to fulfill a graduation requirement and pursue my thesis research, this thought is now on the back burner. All I can keep thinking is how I can really make a difference this summer! I will be assisting on a campaign to increase protection efforts within the Pacific, primarily in areas of Oceania and the Cocos Corridor. I also have the opportunity to assist in efforts to protect sea turtles within the Gulf of Mexico, harmed by shrimp trawls. But, what I am most excited about is the community outreach; I will have the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge in person with new friends in California and around the world with blogs like this one, social media updates I will be leading, and exciting new web content I plan to develop. With awareness and empathy, will action be taken; and only with meaningful actions, will sea turtle populations be able to be restored.
Although I have only worked here a few days I feel a lot of pride in the work that I am doing this summer. This summer promises to be full of life-changing experiences in which I will be able to help protect an amazing and mysterious animal, the sea turtle!
My first day on the job as an intern for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project was, to say the least, very unique. Instead of coming into the office, meeting the other staff and doing normal office work I was expecting, I was instead swept straight into the heart of what the Sea Turtle Restoration Project is all about through their BLUEMiND outreach event at the Romberg Tiburon Center. This event consisted of speakers from all different field and backgrounds, ranging as far as from neuroscience to choreography. Despite their differences, everyone in this group of speakers shared the same love and passion for the ocean and the environment and they have each found a call to action within themselves to work to be a part of an organization that makes a difference. They had dedicated their lives to better understanding the oceans and better understanding people in order to connect the two in a harmonious manner which would benefit both the populations of the sea and land.
This caused me to reflect on myself. Originally, I decided to join the Sea Turtle Restoration Project because of my own love for the ocean and my desire to protect marine life against all the threats the animals are facing in today’s world. I wanted to be a part of an organization that would make a tangible difference through bills and lobbying. BLUEMiND helped me realize that making change is so much more than that. Change starts with the people. You cannot simply tell people to do something, such as asking a fisherman not to use a certain type of nets, and expect results. There needs to be a connection between the people and the change you are trying to make, and our job is to find that connection between the people in our community and our cause.
The audience at BLUEMiND was full of people like me who share a love for the ocean, and want to work with us to make the changes to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same beautiful oceans full of marine life that we have today. It is outreach programs such as this which channel their love for the ocean into a powerful tool for change, empowering those people in the audience to do small things to collectively make a larger difference. These small things may be signing a petition for the Leatherback Bill to work towards making the Leatherback Sea Turtle California’s State Marine Reptile, or it may be choosing paper bags instead of plastic next time they are at the grocery store. The BLUEMiND event showed me how people can easily be empowered to turn their love for something into an action. It is our job to find this connection between the people we encounter and our cause to continue to create changes through our outreach program. Because of this, I am now more than ever looking forward to a summer working for as worthy a cause as the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, and I am excited to see the outreach continue to touch the lives of people and inspire change for the better.
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on March 28th, 2012
If you have ever wanted to
explore the ocean and see all its beautiful creatures from a submarine, then come on a dive with us on an expedition into the Grand Canyons of the
Our friends at Greenpeace have developed a new Submarine Adventure
that uses links embedded in YouTube videos to put you in the pilot seat. You'll
learn why we must protect this beautiful ecosystem and you might even discover
a new species. But be sure to watch out for squid attacks!
Posted by Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director on February 22nd, 2012
The Louisiana Legislature will convene in a few days and begin work to handle dozens of pre-filed bills. They will start officially on March 12 and finish no later than June 4. The most important subject before the legislators appears to be retirement with dozens of bills pre-filed in the House and in the Senate! Hopefully, other matters will also receive needed attention, one of them being the repeal of an antiquated 1987 law that cripples Louisiana law enforcement from doing its job in state waters. Statute § 56:57.2 preventing enforcement of the federal Turtle Excluder Device (TED) regulations was passed in a time of anger and lack of understanding by the Louisiana fishing industry and its legislative representatives. TEDs have long since been proven effective to prevent the drowning of sea turtles while shrimp is being caught and is used and enforced in all other coastal states except Louisiana. Statute § 56:57.2 promised that the state would move to enforce the regulations once research demonstrated that TEDs work effectively. That time came long ago. The federal government has been more than patient in this issue as well as neighboring states. Two years ago, House Bill 1334 would have settled the matter, but the Governor was understandably overwhelmed by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and vetoed it.
It's time Governor Jindal leads Louisiana's shrimping industry down the right path which will put him in the good graces of all the people who see him as a great prospect to serve the nation in the future. But how can a governor who ignores a federal law expect to rise from the Louisiana State House to the White House? Even a cabinet position requires people who respect the laws that have been passed by Congress. The Governor's office has received thousands of messages from voters around the country and expert scientists who recognize that the Endangered Species Act is needed to spare sea turtles and thousands of other creatures that deserve protection.
Now is the time, Governor Jindal. We're all waiting!
In 2010, a bill was introduced that would have repealed the long-standing state laws prohibiting the use of state money to enforce the federal TED requirements. However, after receiving overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill was vetoed by Governor Jindal. This year, we hope to see another bill reintroduced and and then approved by the Governor. This is just one strategy to reduce sea turtle deaths where some shrimp trawlers are ignoring national sea turtle protection laws. Together with allies, STRP has challenged the management of the entire shrimp trawl fishery by the federal government in a lawsuit that is still pending, an action provoked by the record number of sea turtle carcasses found on Gulf shores last year.
During a recent visit home to New Orleans for the holidays, I had the opportunity to meet with the Director of the Louisiana Humane Society to discuss their involvement in and support of the initiative to change Louisiana's out-dated statute on TED enforcement. In addition to the Humane Society of the United States, GreenPeace, EarthTrust, and Sea Turtle Conservancy have all joined forces with STRP to demand increased enforcement of federal laws and more responsible, sustainable fishing practices from the Gulf of Mexico shrimping fleet. A previous letter sent from a coalition of concerned scientists quite successfully garnered support for the cause; therefore, if you know of any organizations that may be interested in signing on to this cause, please let us know!
While 2011 was indeed a rough year for sea turtles, it also proved to be a year of successful and productive campaigning. In response to a gruesome assault on sea turtles by shrimpers in March and April we rallied our members through our action alerts and petitions to call for action, and as a result the on-water enforcement of TEDs increased 10-15 times and sea turtle deaths were virtually eliminated in several months. Check the graph below depicting how our combined actions, including e-mails, letters, and phone calls, saved the lives of sea turtles! Now, how can you help?
Take action today! Demand Louisiana's Governor lead the Legislature and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to present a new sustainable seafood management bill this year that would require proper TED compliance and enforcement to ensure the safety the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. Take the time to make a phone call, write a letter or an e-mail, or even pay a personal visit to the individuals you voted in to office to ensure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities to protect our precious coastal resources. Click here for those Louisiana Legislature contacts!
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on December 1st, 2011
Chevron broke ground on its massive and environmentally destructive Wheatstone natural gas plant in Western Australia today, triggering a boycott of the official ceremony by the Australian Aboriginal community for the company's disregard for their interests. Read the story from the West Australian.
When I visited Onslow two years ago, I was shocked by the run-down, dusty, disheveled condition of the town that had experienced previous oil company booms and busts. No economic prosperity in sight, but lots of falling-down oil company signs and clumps of oil on the beach.
Peter Klinger, The West Australian December 1, 2011, 6:27 am
Today's ceremony near Onslow to mark the start of construction of the Chevron-led $29 billion Wheatstone LNG project threatens to be overshadowed by a rift between the US giant and traditional owners. As of last night, disgruntled elders of the Thalanyji people, who hold Native Title rights for the area around Onslow, were threatening to boycott this morning's ceremony at the Wheatstone location, Ashburton North industrial precinct. It would rob the ceremony, which will be attended by senior executives from project partners Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache and Kufpec as well as Premier Colin Barnett, of a traditional welcome to country, which has become a feature of ground-breaking and milestone ceremonies to recognise the importance of traditional owners. Unlike Woodside Petroleum, Chevron has said little about its dealings with traditional owners other than to flag this year that a wide-ranging access and compensation package had been agreed with the Thalanyji. Chevron and partners approved Wheatstone's development two months ago. Despite agreement on appropriate compensation, it is understood the latest row between Chevron and the Thalanyji revolves around a request for the oil and gas giant to fund and build a Keeping Place for cultural materials, as well as a clash over the invitation list for today's first-sod turning ceremony. Some elders were invited but others apparently not, leading to a decision by the Thalanyji leadership to not attend at all unless grievances with Chevron could be resolved by this morning. A Chevron spokesman said it was "disappointed and regrets" that Thalanyji elders were planning not to attend.
Outside magazine profiles the "blue mind" of sea turtle visionary J. Nichols, a TIRN board member. J shares his vision for a new field of research that crosses conservation with neuroscience. He has captivated my mind and those of scientists, researchers, environmentalists, biologists, surfers and even sports magazine writers! This is an inspiring read. I hope that this story and his appearance on the cover of Outside, one of my favorite magazines (yes I subscribe), will take J's message that loving and caring for sea turtles and the oceans is good for you to new heights! Congratulations J! And thank you Outside!
Although the Gulf of Mexico region has been devastated repeatedly by man made disasters ranging from broken levees to oil inundation, we cannot use those tragedies as blinders to ignore the ongoing and flagrant violation of a 25 year old federal law mandating the use of TEDs by shrimp trawlers in the region. Having eaten as much fried shrimp growing up in bayou country as any other self-respecting y’at, I am growing increasingly aware of the unconscionable cost of this delicacy.
With no scientific data supporting the argument that TEDs significantly reduce the amount of shrimp caught by fishermen, there is no base to the argument against them. Though TEDs are a requirement on trawl nets, they are not yet required on the skimmer nets so often used in the Gulf of Mexico, creating yet another loophole for turtle bycatch to slip through.
Deeply rooted in a unique culture, desperately attempting to survive against the odds in a habitat where water represents more than recreation, but rather a way of life, Louisiana fishermen and law makers, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service overseeing regulation enforcement, need to realize that the only means of persistence is to adapt. If I achieve one goal with this internship, I hope that I manage to successfully convey the message to my beloved home state that progress necessitates change, and in this instance, everyone involved, including the commercial fishing industry, stands to benefit from proper use of TEDs.
If we allow this travesty to continue, it may reach a point of no return, a point where mutually cooperative policy no longer remains an option. We cannot allow ourselves to reach a point where the policies needed to protect the five species of endangered and threatened sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico necessitate drastic reductions in the fishing industry that sustains so much of the life and culture of my dearly beloved Cajun Country.
STRP has compiled a list of concerned scientists, fisheries managers, and industry representatives who support the call for action by NMFS. So come on Louisiana, work with me and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to demand that our government agencies enforce the long standing federal law requiring the protection of our ancient, ailing sea turtles with no negative consequences for the shrimp fisheries of the Gulf Coast. C
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D., Sea Turtle Restoration Project on October 28th, 2011
This summer has seen unprecedented success of our Leatherback Watch Program thanks to our growing team of interns, project partners, and citizen scientists contributing to our all-volunteer network monitoring the critically endangered West Pacific leatherback sea turtles off the U.S. West Coast. Just this week we shared a press release that put the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in the news in several California coast print and online media sources. The sightings information and contributions from our key project partners Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Moss Landing, The Oceanic Society in San Francisco, and Sea Turtles Forever along the Oregon coast, were quoted in the Pacifica Tribune online and print news story. We've teamed up with the Oceanic Society team to invite the general public on three Leatherback Watch Program fundraising expeditions through the Gulf of the Farralones National Marine Sanctuary where a leatherback was spotted on October 2, 2011. STRP members and guests received a discount price and STRP received a portion of the proceeds for these trips (win-win!). The amazing leatherback photos and videos have just been compiled into a video short by our intern Ming Ong and is now available for viewing on the Sea Turtle Restoration Project's YouTube Channel and posted below. Since we have the exact GPS coordinates from each photo and video, these amazing images will soon be hosted in the Ocean Explorer layer of Google Earth!
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on October 24th, 2011
Watching the sun rise over San Francisco's skyline while on my way to the docks to board another offshore expedition to the Farallone Islands in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is always an inspiring moment, and this Sunday was no exception! Our vessel was booked full for an entire day of searching for the rare leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), watching whales, and experiencing all the wildlife diversity in and around these amazing islands. I gave a short talk to our group before departure, sharing facts on the biology and ecology of Pacific leatherbacks and our conservation successes in California and Hawaii. Many of the guests had no idea leatherbacks were present offshore of California and were energized by my talk to see one and help them!
This summer has been very rewarding for our all-volunteer Leatherback Watch Program, which kicked-off with a huge party at the Cal Academy of Sciences on June 16, World Sea Turtle Day, and has tallied over twenty leatherback sightings from Point Sur, California up to British Columbia, Canada this summer and fall. The majority of the leatherbacks seen have been in California's National Marine Sanctuaries, so our expedition to the Farallones was buoyed by high hopes that we would be rewarded with another leatherback sighting.
Within the first half an hour of smooth sailing, I spotted two floating balloons on the surface of the sea, a potentially harmful meal for feeding leatherbacks that might mistake them for jellyfish (which are also round, and float on the surface). Research shows that one-third of all leatherbacks have plastic in their stomachs, and these balloons are a grim reminder why that is true. During the two hour journey out to South Farallone Island, I spotted two more cases of plastic pollution in what is proposed to be critical habitat for the endangered leatherbacks; a mylar and another plastic balloon.
We reached the islands in just under two hours, and immediately spotted a young gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) feeding in shallow water. As the whale meandered, we passed by two shark-diving operators, some marine researchers, and two more wildlife viewing vessels. We spotted the leatherback's favorite food, the brown sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens), in the highest abundance on the leeward side of the south island, but no leatherbacks were seen. We headed offshore to the edge of the continental shelf when an offshore blow directed us to two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding on what appeared in our sonar to be a dense aggregation of krill. These whales were bringing us farther and farther off course, but were thrilling to watch as they repeatedly dove to feed, showing us their flukes on several occasions. Our captain reversed our course and we headed home, passing close to middle rock, and then directly into a pod of Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli). Three more balloons littering the Marine Sanctuary surface were spotted, but still no leatherback sea turtles.
Passing under the Golden Gate bridge on our way home, we all felt mixed emotions; sadness that we had not seen a leatherback sea turtle and that our journey was coming to an end, and elation at the amazing marine mammals we had witnessed. New friends and supporters of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project were made during hours of engaging discussions, and many of the guests left with fantastic photos of the humpbacks. We will continue to partner with the Oceanic Society in the San Francisco Bay and beyond, and look forward to joining them again for another expedition on October 29!