Turtle Swimming

Photo: World Wildlife Fund

Last winter when I was in the Galapagos, one of the highlights of this extraordinary wildlife adventure was a chance to snorkel with Pacific green sea turtles. It’s hard to describe how graceful they are, flapping gently beneath the waves in search of food, their wizened faces close enough at times to touch – although we didn’t, of course.

These mesmerizing creatures are also among the world’s most threatened.  While marine turtles worldwide are struggling in the face of a number of environmental problems – three of the seven endangered species are now deemed critically endangered – one piece of good news has emerged for loggerhead turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal regulators have voted to impose tough new restrictions on the commercial longline fishing fleet in the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to protect marine turtles.  The plan would curtail fishing in certain areas, restrict the number of boats and reduce the number of hooks that can be used, the New York Times reports. Longline fleets, which capture about two-thirds of the U.S. commercial grouper catch, according to the Times, string miles of line studded with thousands of hooks.

Illustration: Sea Turtle Restoration Project, www.seaturtles.org

Illustration: Sea Turtle Restoration Project, www.seaturtles.org

Such fishing methods pose a greater threat to loggerhead turtles than previously thought. A recent federal report, which prompted the new regulations, estimates that nearly 1,000 of the endangered turtles were caught in longlines between July 2006 and December 2008, far above the existing allowance of 114 in a three-year period. The Environmental Defense Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have started a matching-grants program to help longline fishers make a transition to new gear, the Times reports.

To see marine turtles in the wild and assist directly with efforts to save them, join Nat Hab’s Sea Turtle Watching in Mexico trip. You’ll have a chance to help patrol the beach where the turtles have come ashore to nest, and to aid in a safe return to the sea for the tiny hatchlings. Click here for details.

To learn more about marine turtles and efforts to protect them, visit the World Wildlife Fund’s website  and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.