Conservation news

Thousands of endangered sea turtles killed as fishing bycatch in Mexico

Thousands of endangered sea turtles killed as fishing bycatch in Mexico

Thousands of endangered sea turtles killed as fishing bycatch in Mexico
October 15, 2008

Thousands of endangered loggerhead sea turtles are being killed as bycatch in the Mexican fishing industry, reports a new study published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

Surveying the southern coast of Baja California, Mexico over a five-year period from 2003-2007, Hoyt Peckham of the University of California at Santa Cruz and colleagues found nearly 3,000 sea turtle carcasses along a 27-mile section of coast.

“We saw what are apparently the highest documented stranding and fisheries bycatch rates in the world,” he said. “But the high bycatch rates offer us all an unexpected conservation opportunity. By working with just a handful of fishermen to diminish their bycatch, we can save hundreds of turtles.”

“We have counted so many dead turtles. We have piles of data on thousands of carcasses. What we need now are conservation actions and viable solutions,” added Wallace J. Nichols, research associate with the California Academy of Sciences and a coauthor of the paper.

Hatchling sea turtle in Costa Rica

The authors are hoping their research will push the Mexican government will establish protected areas for turtles and encourage local fisherman to adopt more sustainable practices.

“Once they are aware of the ocean-wide impacts of their local bycatch, fishermen often strive to fish more cleanly by switching to different techniques, target species, or areas,” Peckham said. “As a result, stranding rates were down in 2008.”

The authors add that ecotourism can also help sea turtles by bringing income to local communities and funding research. They cite the Ocean Conservancy’s SEE Turtles program as a model.

“The program links travelers with critical sea turtle conservation sites so that vacation dollars can both protect the sea turtles and enhance the livelihood of community residents who protect them,” states a release from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Loggerheads are medium-sized sea turtles that live for 50 years but are at risk due to poaching of eggs, pollution, and accidental mortality as bycatch. North Pacific loggerheads, which nest exclusively in Japan and migrate more than 7,000 miles to the waters off Mexico, are particularly under threat. Research has shown that over the past 50 years the number of nesting females in Japan has fallen by 50-80 percent, according to Peckham. Fewer than 1,500 adult females are believed to nest each year in the entire North Pacific.

This article is based on press materials from UCSC