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Reducing Bycatch and Marine Debris for Turtle Conservation

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: March 18, 2023

Turtles are among the most endangered animals in the world, and their conservation is critical to maintaining the biodiversity and ecological balance of our oceans. However, the problem of bycatch and marine debris has become a major threat to turtle populations worldwide. Bycatch refers to the unintended capture of non-target species, such as turtles, during fishing operations, while marine debris includes any human-made objects that end up in the ocean, such as plastics, discarded fishing gear, and other debris. In this article, we will explore the impact of bycatch and marine debris on turtle conservation, as well as innovative technologies and initiatives to reduce these threats.

Bycatch in Turtle Conservation

Bycatch is a significant threat to turtle populations worldwide. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it is estimated that over 200,000 sea turtles are accidentally caught in fishing gear each year. Bycatch can occur in various forms, such as longline fishing, trawling, and gillnet fishing. Longline fishing, for instance, uses a series of baited hooks that can extend for several miles, and can unintentionally catch sea turtles and other marine life. Trawling, on the other hand, involves dragging a net along the seabed, and can also catch turtles that are feeding or resting on the ocean floor. Gillnet fishing uses a mesh netting to capture fish, but it can also entangle sea turtles, causing them to drown.

The impact of bycatch on turtle populations can be devastating. For example, in the Pacific Ocean, the leatherback turtle population has declined by over 95% due to bycatch, according to the WWF. Bycatch also affects other turtle species, such as loggerheads and green turtles, which are caught in fishing gear in many parts of the world. To address this issue, the fishing industry must take responsibility for reducing bycatch through the implementation of regulations and innovative technologies.

One example of innovative technology that can reduce bycatch is the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). TEDs are devices that can be fitted into fishing nets to allow turtles and other non-target species to escape. These devices have been shown to be highly effective in reducing turtle mortality in fishing operations. In addition, other technologies, such as acoustic deterrents and LED lights, can also reduce bycatch by deterring turtles and other non-target species from entering fishing gear.

Marine Debris in Turtle Conservation

Marine debris, including plastics and discarded fishing gear, is another major threat to turtle populations worldwide. According to the Ocean Conservancy, over eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and it is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. This plastic can be mistaken by turtles for food, leading to ingestion, choking, and entanglement. In addition, discarded fishing gear, such as nets and lines, can continue to trap turtles and other marine life, even after they have been discarded.

The sources of marine debris are diverse, and include both land-based and ocean-based activities. Land-based sources of marine debris include litter and waste that is not properly disposed of, while ocean-based sources include fishing gear, cargo containers, and ships that discharge waste at sea. To address this issue, a comprehensive approach is needed, including efforts to reduce waste and promote recycling, as well as measures to remove debris from the ocean.

One example of an initiative to reduce marine debris is the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which brings together stakeholders from across the fishing industry, government, and NGOs to address the problem of lost and discarded fishing gear, or “ghost gear”. The GGGI works to prevent ghost gear from entering the ocean, and to remove it from the ocean once it has been lost or discarded. The initiative also promotes sustainable fishing practices, and works to raise awareness of the impacts of ghost gear on marine life.

Innovative technologies are also being developed to address the problem of marine debris. For example, Ocean Cleanup is an organisation that is developing advanced technologies to remove plastic from the ocean, including a passive cleanup system that uses the natural movement of the ocean to collect plastic. Another example is the use of drones to locate and remove marine debris from hard-to-reach areas.

Volunteering in Sea Turtle Conservation with GVI

Volunteering is a great way to contribute to sea turtle conservation efforts. GVI’s approach to turtle conservation focuses on research, education, and community outreach. Volunteers have the opportunity to work with local researchers and conservationists to collect data on turtle populations, monitor nesting sites, and participate in beach cleanups to remove marine debris. They also have the chance to engage with local communities to raise awareness about turtle conservation and promote sustainable fishing practices.

Volunteers with GVI are responsible for a range of tasks, including monitoring nesting sites, tagging turtles, and collecting data on turtle populations. They also participate in beach cleanups to remove marine debris, and assist with community outreach and education initiatives. Volunteers do not need any prior experience in turtle conservation, as GVI provides training and support to ensure that they are able to contribute effectively to conservation efforts.

Volunteering with GVI offers a range of benefits, including the opportunity to work with experienced conservationists and researchers, gain hands-on experience in sea turtle conservation, and contribute to important research and conservation initiatives. Volunteers also have the chance to travel to beautiful locations around the world, and to immerse themselves in local cultures.

Reducing bycatch and marine debris is critical to the conservation of turtle populations worldwide. Bycatch and marine debris have significant impacts on turtle populations, and innovative technologies and initiatives are needed to address these threats. The fishing industry must take responsibility for reducing bycatch, through the implementation of regulations and innovative technologies, such as TEDs. Efforts to reduce marine debris must also be comprehensive, including measures to reduce waste and promote recycling, as well as initiatives to remove debris from the ocean. Volunteering in sea turtle conservation with organisations such as GVI offers a valuable opportunity to contribute to conservation efforts, and to gain hands-on experience in turtle conservation. Ultimately, it is up to all of us to take responsibility for protecting the biodiversity and ecological balance of our oceans, and to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and wonder of these incredible creatures.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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