Yesterday was World Sea Turtle Day, and with World Ocean’s Day come and gone, taking a day to celebrate these ancient dwellers of our global oceans creates another opportunity to examine what threats are putting these and other species at risk of extinction, and what we all can do to help protect our oceans.
Of course I have a soft spot for all creatures of the deep blue, but sea turtles have always been particularly fascinating to me. Somehow they have managed to survive major changes in our oceans over millions of years (no small feat), and yet in humanity's short lifetime, we've managed to push them to the brink.
All 7 sea turtle species are threatened with extinction, finding themselves on various endangered species lists around the globe. The good news is that we know what’s killing them; we just need to stop it. Sea turtles face many threats including marine pollution, habitat destruction, poaching, and bycatch in destructive fishing practices. Lots of great organizations are working to stop habitat destruction, curb poaching, protect and ensure hatchlings have a shot at making it to sea and push for changes to shrimp trawls. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, for example, has a great program that you can get involved in even from the comfort of your home. If you want to get out there and help the sea turtles first hand, you can do that too.
I first witnessed the impact of destructive fisheries on sea turtles when i was doing just that on a trip to the south of Guatemala. I saw a giant female sea turtle washed up on a nesting beach after being drowned in a shrimp trawl net, likely on her way home to nest. I was at the beach as a volunteer to patrol the beach at night for poachers that were after newly laid eggs. The local residents told me it was very common to see turtles washed up on shore, and even more common practice to see turtle eggs, meat and parts sold illegally. To know that even if the turtles dodged the trawl on their way to nest they still run the risk of having their future generations snatched before they can make it back to the sea, made me amazed that the turtle populations weren't wiped out completely.
Shrimp trawls are well-known sea turtle death traps, but more light has been shed on other fisheries also leading to mass turtle mortalities each year. For example, through the work of the Ecology Action Center and Hector the blue shark, we’ve learned about the impacts that the Canadian longline swordfish fishery is having on two turtle species.
This year Greenpeace Canada has been directing much attention towards tuna fisheries and the indiscriminate fishing method most commonly used other than longlining – purse seining using fish aggregating devices (FADs)- that take a huge toll on sea turtles and various other species including threatened sharks. Longlines in particular have received much negative attention for their turtle catches, and despite efforts to develop mitigative measures to minimize sea turtle mortalities, many thousands of sea turtles are still being drowned on hooks each year.
Greenpeace is calling on the global tuna industry to clean up its act, and cut the waste from its cans. We’re urging Canada’s major canned tuna brands to go FAD-free and avoid sourcing from longlines unless the catch of other species including turtles can be avoided. Some companies like Raincoast Trading have pledged to only sell longline-free tuna and others like Wild Planet Foods depict this commitment on its cans with a turtle-friendly logo.
As other brands work to seek out supply from more sustainable fishing methods, Some companies like new Zealand's largest supplier of canned tuna, Sealoard and Clover Leaf – Canada’s largest brand- are content to can ocean destruction. Clover Leaf says it funds research into minimizing the impacts of fishing gear on species like sea turtles, but not actually ensuring that what goes into its cans means turtles and other species continue to be caught on a regular. Companies like Clover Leaf need to stop being part of the problem and work to be part of the solution. Management of our tuna fisheries has failed, but some countries and some companies are taking matters into their own hands. We can't let Clover leaf off the hook- the survival of our precious sea turtles and other species is too important.
What can you do? Click here to send an email to Clover Leaf CEO and ask him to stop stalling on sea turtle and other species protection. If you're a tuna lover, stay away from longlined products unless you know that turtles and other species are not being caught.
Save the Sea Turtles, Stop the Destruction!