Fishing & Boating News

Help Save Our Endangered Sea Turtles

(If We Don't- We'll Lose Them Forever)

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Hatchling sea turtles in their cubicles awaiting release
Photo by Ed Snyder
Sea Turtle laying its eggs at the edge of a sand dune
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Mar. 23, 2012 - Bolivar Peninsula, TX. ?)

A Loud sucking gasp suddenly shattered the still of the night that only comes at 4:am. Startled, I glanced up to see a HUGE sea turtle with basket ball sized head and saucer eye on the surface inhaling a gulp of fresh air. Totally surprised by this sight the turtle then submerged as swiftly as it had appeared. All I could respond was WOW!!!

I experienced this most exciting incident while night fishing at Rollover Pass, I was looking through my tackle box when this massive sea critter interrupted my search. The turtle must've weighed 100 lbs or more. Catching only a brief glimpse before it suddenly disappeared, I really couldn't identify the species. But the sea turtle was swimming against the tide towards Galveston's East Bay. The one haunting thing I'll always remember from this encounter was that saucer sized eye looking back at me before it disappeared.

Always amazed by these incredible sea animals with their secretive nocturnal activities when pulling their massive bodies out of Gulf waters, sometimes dragging themselves 100 yards before digging sandy nests to lay their eggs. We mainly only see these ghostly turtle tracks across our beaches while on our early morning beach walks. But mostly these tracks are covered over by wind blown sands or tidal surf before we can see them.

Curious to find out more about them I attended a recent sea turtle seminar on Galveston Island, where they began to educate and answer the many questions we would ask, and giving out information with some very alarming facts about the trials and tribulations of these magnificent sea creatures.

The first SHOCKER was that over 40,000 of the most endangered of the seven species, the Kemps Ridley, are lost to us each year from over fishing and illegal poaching that market their meat and eggs as a delicacy. This one fact, stated the instructor, is why we'll probably lose the Kemps Ridley to the world FOREVER! UNLESS, he interjected to ease our shock, we seriously buckle down to the task of saving them from this inevitable total extinction.

Of the seven sea turtle species known to the world, the Flat-back, Olive Ridley, Kemps Ridley, Leatherback, Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead are all endangered with five of those known endangered species, the Kemps Ridley, Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Loggerhead living part of their life style right here in the Gulf of Mexico. Of the five species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico only the Kemps Ridley is a daytime nester, which probably makes this habit detrimental to their very survival.

The main problems, stated the instructor, are those who shrimp for a living refusing to use TEDS (turtle exclusion devices) which allow turtles caught up in shrimp trawls to be released alive rather then be killed. Some Gulf shrimpers aren't convinced yet that these devices work and refuse to use them. But what they don't understand is the 2nd problem that occurs with each trawl is the unwanted by-catch of species other than shrimp when using the TED will be cut by 40% after each trawl, which in turn allows the Shrimper to harvest more shrimp, which realizes much higher profits for them.

Another serious problem, he further explained, are the long line fishermen who set out lines with hundreds of deepwater hooks to catch their quarry. The sea turtles will feed on these baits and once hooked aren't able to surface for air and drown. Thousands of sea turtles are lost in this way.

Australia has come up with a new device that will solve this major problem that allows those baited deepwater hooks to drop below the turtle feeding depth. A special clip attached to the baited hook releases from the hook deeper allowing the bait to set below the turtle feeding depth. These two items, the use of the TED and the special long line Australian CLIP would help tremendously to save thousands of sea turtles. But WE have to educate these people to use them and in doing so help save the sea turtles.

Despite complicated lives; sea turtles can live well into their 80s returning to their nesting beaches to keep their life cycles active. But recent studies show that their reproductive journeys aren't providing the numbers of nesting turtles as before. Once, when the sea turtles were abundant, nesting beaches once saw as many as 40 to 50,000 nesting turtles struggling across nesting beaches. But as turtle harvest and illegal greed increased we began to realize that much smaller percentages of nesting turtles were crossing the nesting beaches. Alarmed by this concerned citizens began to form "Save the Sea Turtle" groups and sea turtle research centers.

Among these groups NOAA and NMFS are most active in the research, development, and activation of sea turtle programs for the preservation of endangered species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Sea Turtle Facility which is part of the NOAA/NMFS Galveston Laboratory, are not a public aquarium or zoo. They are a U.S. Federal Government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce) Research Facility dedicated to raising threatened and endangered sea turtles in captivity. Guided tours of this amazing and very important Facility are offered to the public 3 days per week. Call 832-459-5533 or e-mail NatureTourismGalv@juno.com . It's well worth the half day you spend with them.

This is the only facility of its type in the United States and one of only two places in the world where you can see Kemp's Ridley hatchlings. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtles in this Facility are a gift from the Government of Mexico and part of a joint international U.S.-Mexico conservation and recovery project. The loggerhead sea turtles are part of a cooperative conservation program with the State of Florida. They are also a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center and Sea Turtle Hospital for the upper Texas coast.

Miracle workers, these dedicated "sea turtle interns" and doctors, of this special sea turtle hospital, continually provide life lines to mangled and damaged sea turtles that most people would think were unrecoverable. Case in point, a dead sea turtle was once reported by a beach walker and an agent from the turtle group arrived to recover the body of a turtle, which was severely mangled with its internal organs hanging out. Obviously run over by a boats propeller. But when the agent touched the turtles eye to make sure it was actually dead "IT BLINKED!" the sea turtle was immediately moved to the ICU unit of the turtle hospital, where, after extensive surgery and rehabilitation, that once thought dead sea turtle is now alive, healthy, swimming, and still laying eggs.

Texas is participating in these extremely important sea turtle programs on a huge scale which involves gathering turtle eggs and shipping them down to a special turtle recovery base at South Padre Island. Founded by Ila Fox Loetscher, otherwise known as "The Turtle Lady of South Padre" in 1977, where the sea turtle eggs are incubated, hatched, and imprinted in the waters of the Gulf before being shipped back to their original gathering areas and released. This is also the 2nd place where the public can witness the Kemps Ridley. Turtle Inc; is the name of this facility where injured sea turtles are also mended, rehabilitated, and released.

What we can do to help save the sea turtles ; The sea turtles are in their mating phase during February/March and will start coming on Texas coastal shores to lay their eggs from April thru June. They don't lay their eggs once but several times throughout this period of egg laying. It's nature insuring its survival by laying eggs in different locations in case nests are destroyed by high storm tides or animal or human vandalism. Sea turtles inhabit all oceans of the world. There are five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which are either endangered or threatened. The most endangered species of sea turtle in the world is the Kemp's Ridley which is also the most common species found in the waters off of Texas. Since the Kemp's Ridley was listed on the Endangered Species Act, the Galveston Lab has played an important role in the conservation and recovery of this species through ongoing research, special head-start experiments and support their support and involvement with international conservation efforts.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

If seen, Do not bother or harass the turtle but GPS its location and call 1-866-887-8535 to report the finding. The turtle people will dispatch agents to see that the turtle and the nesting site is protected and recover the eggs. Do this for injured or dead sea turtles as well. The injured can be saved and the dead can be studied, furthering the knowledge about sea turtles

If caught on rod and reel; DO NOT remove the hook and release the turtle- cut the fishing line and call the turtle people. It was once thought that when the turtle was hooked and if you cut the line and released it, the turtle would have a 50% chance of survival. This is WRONG!!! They'll actually have less than 10% chance of survival. But if the turtle people recovers the hooked turtle they can properly remove the hook either by surgery, or by working the hook out of the turtle, then rehabilitate it for release.

A specialized tagging program is also helping to keep track of these endangered sea turtles. This important project provides extremely valuable data for their advanced research of endangered sea turtles. These tags, many attached while they're still hatchlings, maintain a viable history and geographical travels of where the turtles go, which can track them thousands of nautical miles in every sea corner of the world.

Since 1978, over 24,000 Kemp's Ridley turtles and 1,500 loggerhead turtles were reared, tagged, and released by this program. Those tag returns found that these releases have been reported from the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Atlantic Coast, and as far away as France, and Morocco. Development and migration studies of captive-reared turtles indicate that they adapt well in all conditions of the wild and are found distributed throughout the species natural range. Injured, maimed, or sick sea turtles found in the wild are also treated, rehabilitated at the laboratory before being tagged and released back into their natural domain.

I, for one, will help out as much as possible in my every day walkabouts on the beaches where I live. For I dread the possibility of never again hearing the sound of that loud gasp for air, or the saucer eyed stare of a sea turtle looking back at me. I would, in my opinion, consider that a loss as personal as losing ones family member. It would be both a tragedy and a crime against nature if we humans allow sea turtles to fade into memory.

Important Contacts;
(832)-459-5533 for Galveston Turtle Reports;
(956)-761-4511 for South Padre Island Turtle Reports;
(369)-949-7163 Padre Island Turtle Hatching Program;
1-888-887-8535 (1-888-TURTLE5 for All Sea Turtle Reports;
1-800-9MAMMAL- For Dead or Stranded Dolphins;
409-771-2872- for Bolivar Peninsula sea turtle reports from April thru July;
Distressed birds call Trudy at 409-948-6262.
Texas A & M of Galveston new Sea Life facility www.tamug.edu/sealife/index.html
(includes access to a turtle webcam).
Phone # to the Sea-Life Center is 409-740-4574.
More info on turtles can be found at www.seaturtle.org
NatureTourismGalv@juno.com .
TurtleLab- Marine Biologist Lydsay Howell answering questions at the Turtle Barn in Galveston, TX
Photo by Ed Snyder