The sea turtle is one of the most ancient creatures on Earth, with seven species that are still around today. They are believed to have been around as far back as 110 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the planet. Despite their considerably long existence, all seven species of the sea turtle population are considered to be endangered in the wild.
A new study released by the United Kingdom’s University of Exeter states that approximately 42,000 sea turtles are killed worldwide every year. The hunting of sea turtles is, however, legal and allowed in 42 countries and territories, including Papua New Guinea, which has been found to be the sole contributor for more than 36 percent of legal sea turtle deaths.
According to the University of Exeter, 180 countries worldwide have backed up the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is a petition to restrict worldwide trade of products made of turtles, and is essentially a huge step towards the safety of sea turtles. Despite the steps being taken to aid the sea turtle population from becoming further endangered, there is still illegal trading of turtle products and the fact that a great amount of sea turtles are killed as a direct result of fishing for other marine species.
One example that threatens the sea turtle and other marine species are shrimp trawlers, which are huge nets that are the size of football fields. Ships drag the nets through the water, which trap nearly everything that it comes across. It has been estimated that shrimp trawlers located in the southeast Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico kill 53,000 turtles every year.
Oceana and three other groups filed a notice of intent just last month to sue the U.S. government, urging it to analyze the effects of shrimp trawlers on the endangered sea turtle population. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service offered a regulation that would require trawl nets to use Turtle Excluder Devices in 2012, which would have had an opening to give sea turtles the opportunity to escape if they have been trapped. The proposal was quickly withdrawn after the fishing industry voiced an angry opposition.
There are now shorter tow-time requirements for shrimp trawl nets, which are set in place so that any trapped sea turtle can be released back into the water before they die. However, despite the rules set in place, studies have unfortunately shown that a considerable number of fisherman do not comply with the rules.
“Even though there have been heightened measures of worldwide protection of sea turtles, the fact remains that legal hunting is still a major source of sea turtle deaths,” Frances Humber, lead author of the University of Exeter’s study on sea turtles, said.
Humber and the other authors of the study on the dwindling population of endangered sea turtles noted that they hoped their report would raise awareness of the sea turtle’s plight. They did say they are not calling for a complete ban on the hunting of marine turtles, but rather for the adoption of more sustainable fishing practices.
By Jessica Cooley