Gulf of Mexico Seafood Safety Estimates by FDA Flawed
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on December 19th, 2010
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project of the Turtle Island Restoration Network is signed-on to a coalition with other concerned non-profit organizations in calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve its flawed seafood safety calculations which may be putting Gulf of Mexico residents consuming their average amount of seafood at risk. Click here to download the coalition letter to the FDA.
Contamination of Gulf seafood has been a concern in the wake of the horrific BP oil spill this summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Federal agencies moved rapidly to re-open fishing grounds weeks after the areas were dotted with oil slicks. Shrimp trawlers, which have killed over 100 sea turtles during the summer disaster, were found guilty of trawling in areas closed during the oil spill. An excellent summary of concerns was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Download and read the commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association "Health Effects of the Gulf Oil Spill."
Recently, more evidence on the flawed risk assessment calculations performed by the FDA has made news headlines, see below for the full story.
Groups skeptical of federal seafood-safety testing
12/17/2010, Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter
Environmental groups are stressing the need for more independent data on the safety of Gulf Coast seafood after a study released last week found flaws in the federal methods for determining the region's seafood consumption levels.
Several Gulf groups are conducting their own testing of seafood from regions hit by the oil spill, saying that they do not trust the data federal agencies have used in declaring areas safe for fishing.
Groups also say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moved too hastily to open up fishing areas, pointing to the recent reclosing of 4,213 square miles of an 8,403-square-mile royal red shrimp fishing area after a fisherman caught tarballs in his shrimp trawler.
"The rush to say that seafood is safe is premature and hurts the brand more than if we all just waited a little bit and gave the science the time to tell us what's really happening out there," said Casey DeMoss Roberts, assistant director of science and water policy at the Gulf Restoration Network.
In the study released last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that FDA underestimated the amount of seafood that the typical Gulf Coast resident consumes. That information was used in calculations for safe levels of contamination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in seafood, chemicals that remain from the BP PLC oil spill.
FDA, according to the study, based its estimates of consumption on national data and used the average American male adult weighing 175 pounds as its basis for its calculations. It assumed that a Gulf resident eats seafood about twice a week and shrimp once a week. One serving of shrimp, according to the FDA, consists of about four jumbo shrimp.
The Natural Resources Defense Council surveyed 547 Gulf Coast residents on their seafood eating habits and found that their consumption rates were from 3.6 to 12.1 times higher than FDA estimates. The survey also found that Vietnamese-Americans had especially high seafood consumption rates in fish, shrimp, oyster and crab.
"Four shrimp a week is not even an appetizer for some folks around here," said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
Roberts said the NRDC's results were not surprising.
"As soon as we saw the consumption rates FDA had determined, it was laughable. They didn't even pass the straight-face test," she said.
The NRDC and more than 30 environmental and public interest groups sent a letter last week to FDA complaining of the discrepancy in consumption rates.
"We've been requesting that they adapt their standards for months and months and months now. This letter isn't the first time they've heard an outcry from people," said Peter Brabeck, environmental monitor for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
FDA defended its use of national data on seafood consumption.
"FDA is not aware of any published data upon which we can rely for seafood consumption figures other than what we used," said Sebastian Cianci, a spokesman for FDA, in an e-mail to Greenwire. He said the agency is reviewing the NRDC study to see if it is a suitable source of consumption data
Beyond seafood consumption rates, Gulf environmental groups say FDA's testing and monitoring methods are inadequate and rely on too few samples. When NOAA opened up 5,130 square miles of Gulf waters for fishing in September, it based the opening on sensory tests of 123 samples and chemical analyses of 183 specimens composited into 27 samples.
Since it is difficult to statistically represent the entire Gulf of Mexico, FDA "adopted a sampling strategy that gave us great confidence that the samples collected were adequately representative of the worst-case scenario for oil spill and dispersant residues," Cianci said.
FDA and NOAA continue to monitor the Gulf, and Cianci said they have not found merit in any reports of tainted seafood. But many environmental groups are carrying out their own sampling and gathering results from independent labs, citing stories of fishermen finding tarballs in fishing nets.
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr, working with technical adviser and chemist Wilma Subra and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, has collected samples from the west edge of the oil spill's damage all the way to the Louisiana-Mississippi border. On Monday, Orr released data on oysters, blue crab, mussels, shrimp and other seafood showing levels of PAHs and petroleum hydrocarbons.
He has not compared the data to any standards of safe levels because he said just finding any standards on total petroleum hydrocarbons has proved difficult. According to Subra, FDA has no established level of concern for total petroleum hydrocarbons.
"I don't think we've really had to deal with having very much petroleum contamination in seafood before," Orr said. "I don't think [FDA was] prepared for dealing with something like this. I don't think many of us were prepared for something like this."
Orr said the seafood looked "perfect" when collected. Because of this, environmental groups say they want federal agencies to abandon the practice of performing a sensory test, or what Brabeck calls a "sniff test," as a first step to test for contamination.
"It's crazy to me that that's actually considered the legitimate form of testing," Brabeck said.
A panel of NOAA experts observes and sniffs the seafood samples sent in from states, and if the samples pass the test, they are sent off to an FDA lab for chemical analyses of composite tissue samples. If the samples pass those chemical tests, the area from which they came can be reopened for fishing.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has taken a different strategy with its sampling. Started 10 years ago to test pollution from refineries, the brigade is now handing out sampling kits to residents to test seafood, air and water. Residents collect samples, wrap them in foil or put them in a nonreactive container, and ship them off in bags to a certified lab. The Bucket Brigade then interprets the data for residents.
"It's trying to get the community ... to sample what they think needs to be sampled," Brabeck said, adding that it also gives a voice to the communities that have been affected by the spill.
The local knowledge is key, Brabeck said.
"These people have been there for generations, a lot of these people six generations of fishing," he said. "These guys, they know what their environment looks like. They know what their water looks like before and after the spill."
Turtle Time and Taking DNA for Uncle Sam
Posted by Teri Shore on December 13th, 2010
After the big turtle wrangling night, sea turtle activity on EcoBeach
slowed for a few nights. Turtle-time took over as we all got into the
rhythm of beach walking by night, sleeping for a few hours at a time,
eating and resting. The heat and humidity kept non-patroling activity to a low ebb. What day is it?
one slow night on the beach, an elusive sea turtle seemed to intentionally avoid the
patrols. We crossed her tracks once at the beginning of a midnight patrol as she attempted to nest (a false crawl). Then a short time later, the earlier patrol passed us on their return to the resort and called to report they had sighted a second set of
tracks just behind us, but no turtle. The turtle must have crawled up again just minutes after
our crew had passed. Then at 2:45 am as we were headed
back after an uneventful patrol, we found a third set of tracks not far from the first two leading to, finally, a
nest, but again no turtle. If it was the same sea turtle, and we don't know for sure, it
appears she intentionally eluded the research team. Sea turtles can see, hear and smell us and our figures on the beach could make a nesting female wary.
On the second morning that my patrol returned from a night camping at
Jack's Creek, we exhumed another nest and found a hatchling still
struggling in the nest after all its mates had gone. Once again we were
able to release the little flatback into the sea and hope it had enough
strength to swim beyond the low waves.
Finally on our last night, we got busy with turtles again. This night we
needed to take an extra step by clipping a tiny piece of flipper to fulfill a
special request for flatback DNA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The CVA project here at EcoBeach managed by Glenn McFarlane is the only project in Australia where flatback DNA sampling is being conducted in 2010. So after I helped get flipper tag numbers, measure the sea turtle, and mark her nest, I assisted Tony in preparing the rear flipper for a quick clip of the flipper to put in a vile. Then we needed to break normal beach protocols and take a picture of the sea turtle with the DNA sample to document the sample for Uncle Sam. This is the only picture of me with a sea turtle for the week -- my hand holding the DNA sample!
Earlier that same night, the Jack's Creek patrol was lucky enough to see a daylight nests on their way out to camp. One of the Shell volunteers was generous enough to share his fantastic photos, which you see above. So far flatbacks have laid more than 60 nests! Next week, the CVA sea turtle tagging and monitoring team will be leaving the beach for the season and the first CVA EcoBeach hatchling program will begin to monitor the hatchlings as they emerge from the nests.
Posted by Teri Shore on December 10th, 2010
Last night I spent almost the whole night out on the beach with our crew of “turtle wranglers” and today slept all day and through dinner! It was a long night but exciting.
It was a all-girl team of four working with Glenn the research leader. I've learned first-hand that Australian flatbacks are far more skittish than the loggerhead. So instead of working with the turtle after she goes into her egg-laying trance, we must wait until it is done nesting and headed back to sea to tag, measure, get DNA. That means we need to stop the turtle as it heads for home, the ocean. Last night we ran into one big, strong female at high tide. So there wasn’t much sand between us and the water.
Rika, our Japanese student, was the on-point wrangler for this turtle. But she could not stop her. So I jumped in and was face to face with the sea turtle, hands on either side of her head pushing against her shell. I was able to slow her to a stop. But when Glenn clamped the tags into her flipper, she was not pleased and started hissing and snapping. Yes these sea turtles hiss, kind of like a cross between a cat and a dragon!
The turtle was like a tank pushing down the slope so a third woman, our French delegate from Shell, joined the frontline trying to hold her back. Then there was the second tag. Ouch! Run to the sea. We started getting wet from the surf. Now for the DNA sample! Ouch, hiss, push, slide.
Finally as the tide started washing over our legs, Glenn was done and the turtle released! We collapsed in the sand, exhilarated and exhausted. The sea turtle, unharmed, slips back into the sea.
And that was just the beginning of the night! We had one more turtle which was much more docile to work with. Then we observed several false crawls, and stopped to check on several nests due to hatch; and finally got back to camp by 3 am. We slept until 4:30 am in our tents – this was our first night camping down the beach at Jack's Creek, 12 kilomoeters from the resort.
After we got up for the morning drive-by patrol (the only time we use the truck) and had to stop numerous times to mark and measure tracks and nests from turtles we missed during the night.
We also needed to exhume two nests that had hatched. In one, we found two live hatchlings in the nest that had not made it to the surface. Because the tide was now so low [it’s been a 7 to 9 meter tide variation], we had to drive a ways and then walk across the mud flats to release the stragglers.
And then another set of tracks to measure and mark! So we finally got back to camp at 7:15 am, time to shower and eat breakfast at 8 am. Then I went back to bed and slept all day, literally sleeping until 5 pm and missing dinner, which we eat early at 4:15 pm due to the sea turtle patrol schedule.
One of the turtle leaders came to wake me up! I was lucky that when I came down to the main area that the cook took mercy on me and served me up a plate!
Now I am wide awake and will probably just stay up until my shift begins at 12 midnight to 3 am!
Photos of sea turtles by Dave and Fiona Harvey, a naturalist couple who lead turtle and whale tours for EcoBeach Resort. They are lovely people who just left here as it is the end of the season. If you want to contact them about photos, they can be reached at email@example.com Please don't use photos without permission! All of our sea turtles have come sshore at night when no flash photography is allowed! The Harveys have been fortunate enough to capture several daylight nesters!
Flatback Researchers at EcoBeach Find Nesters Returning in Consecutive Years
Posted by Teri Shore on December 8th, 2010
On our first night patrol, we "new" recruits worked our first flatback sea turtle on EcoBeach under the direction of Conservation Volunteers Australia marine species manager Glenn McFarlane and his co-leader Tony. The flatback is smaller and more "feminine" than the big old dinosaur-like loggerheads at Mon Repos on the Queensland coast that I worked with earlier this year. These turtles are truly flatter in the carapace, a light olive grey and the flippers smaller but just as powerful.
With a New Moon, the beach was really dark but the skies spectacular with the Milky Way and the Southern Cross fully bright. The tides have been extreme making it impossible to patrol the north end of the beach at Jack's Creek. With the wind and tides, it seemed perfect for flatback nesting but last night, our third walking the beach, no turtles were sighted.
Then early this morning at 4:45 am just before sunrise, sea turtle research leader Tony drove us along the beach out to Jack's creek at low tide to see what was missed. Sure enough on the stretch of beach beyond where we were able to patrol at high tide, we found sea turtle tracks. Most were "false crawls," meaning the female did not leave any eggs behind. But we did discover one nest in the dunes!
So far this year more than 60 nests have been found and marked. The first nest of the season hatched two nights ago. The night patrol found the tiny tracks and returned a couple of days later to exhume the nest. Almost all eggs had hatched successfully (98 percent).
Flatbacks lay only 50 eggs compared to most other species which generally drop 100 or more eggs into the nest. The flatback eggs are larger in size and perhaps this gives them an edge. The science on this is still not definitive.
Glenn has made a significant finding after only three seasons tagging flatbacks here: It appears that nearly 75 percent of these females nest every year! Nowhere else in the world have so many sea turtles been tagged only to return in subsequent years to nest. One of these flatbacks nested all three years (2008, 2009, 2010). Glenn hopes to present the research to date at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in San Diego in 2011.
Photos by Teri Shore, top to bottom: Teri and sea turtle tracks on EcoBeach, a false crawl with tracks in several directions, and Tony of Conservation Volunteers Australia tagging a nest.
Oceans Career Launch as a STRP Intern
Posted by Lindsay Elam, Marine Biologist on December 8th, 2010
When I first learned that I would be an intern for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) I was ecstatic, especially since I just graduated UCSC with a Marine Biology degree and this was my first real world experience in marine conservation! I have learned so much on the issues concerning sea turtles around the world, along with what measures STRP takes to help manage these issues. My experience at STRP has made me realize I want to get into marine conservation and help save our oceans!
During my time at STRP, I was able to take on several projects, including: educating children about the seven species of sea turtles and why they are endangered, along with the effect of the Gulf oil spill; helped research for the AB 1998 Plastics Report, and refocused this report into three reports focusing on (1) U.S. West Coast, (2) California, and (3) Oregon; co-authored the U.S. West Coast Sea Turtle report; creating up to date volunteer resources where STRP can post opportunities for volunteers; created a guide on how to write a letter to elected officials about environmental and social issues; created a guideline to social media at STRP (a how to navigate through STRP’s facebook and twitter pages); edited Wikipedia pages with relation to STRP’s achievements; created a detailed list of useful educational material on sea turtles for teachers and for STRP to adopt. Also during my time at STRP I was given the opportunity to table at the Cal Academy Nightlife for Sharktober (10/14/10), helping to collect signatures for two petitions: to help save the Kimberly Coast in Australia and the Australian Flatbacks, from big oil companies, and to stop the Swordfish and Tuna Longline fishery in Florida to be labeled at “eco-friendly”; postcards were also encouraged to be signed, about three issues: (1) Obama, (2) Costa Rica Leatherbacks, and (3) the Kemp’s Ridley. I was also lucky enough to help table and sell merchandise at STRP’s Sea Turtle Saturday (11/6/10) at the Aquarium of the Bay.
One of the main issues I worked on while at STRP was plastic pollution and long-line fisheries endangering sea turtles globally. It is heartbreaking to see how many turtles drown from entanglement from long-lining, as well as how many turtles die from starvation due to the amount of plastics they have consumed. Being able to help raise awareness of these issues and help petition these issues was truly a rewarding and an eye opening experience.
My time at STRP has been truly rewarding and far exceeded my expectations. I was taught something new everyday. All the professional skills and experiences I have acquired while working at STRP, will benefit me in any career. I am very grateful I was able to work with such a dedicated organization.
Kimberley Activists Face Off with Private Security in Defense of James Price Point
Posted by Teri Shore on December 4th, 2010
I just arrived in Broome to stay with activists who are on the ground defending James Price Point from oil company invasion. The release of the "strategic assessment" is due in a week, and the gas hub not approved yet, but Woodside Petroleum is already preparing to clear brush and set up camps.
The blog Hands Off Country is documenting the defense and latest news, including court cases related to native title issues and the manipulation of the legal system by interests favorable to the industrialization of the Kimberley coast.
Watch Video of Australian activists rallying for the Kimberley
Posted by Teri Shore on December 3rd, 2010
Aboriginal activist Neil McKenzie who visited us earlier this year tells Premier Collin Barnett that the people will not back down in fighting for the preservation of the Kimberley and stopping oil and gas exploitation.
Sea Turtle Advocacy in Sacramento
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on December 2nd, 2010
Sometimes protecting the oceans and sea turtles means driving away from the sea, as I did this week on a trip to meet with California legislators, activists, and the Ocean Protection Council in our state’s capitol city of Sacramento. I was joined by super-star ocean activist and regular STRP volunteer Deb Castellena. We had a plan where we could split up and accomplish all of our many goals for the day if needed. Sacramento is always an adventure!
A massive press event was scheduled at 11:00am to highlight governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strong support of state and local plastic bag bans as a means to improve the environment and save the lives of wildlife, like sea turtles. At the same time, I was scheduled to attend the rare public meeting of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to testify on behalf of our work developing ways to reduce bycatch from fisheries. The OPC meeting started first, and Deb and I both were pleased to share our Gulf activism stories with those friends we could meet with before the meeting started. Once underway, Deb left early to set up her camera at the plastic bag ban press event, but I stayed at the OPC meeting waiting for my agenda item….and waiting.
California is working towards developing their own sustainable seafood guidelines, and the preliminary draft of their proposal, which we helped shape, was presented at the meeting and is open for public comment through January 18, 2011.
I spoke in support of zero bycatch of endangered, protected, or threatened species in California’s fisheries attempting to gain the sustainable certification. Yes, ZERO BYCATCH! This goal is clearly stated in the long-standing Marine Mammal Protection Act, and in reality, some fisheries already can boast zero bycatch of endangered sea turtles and marine mammals. Allowing only those fisheries to proceed with a sustainable certification is the best option to protect California’s endangered leatherback sea turtles.
I also made sure that the entire OPC and everyone in the room was aware that the California Drift Gill-Net fishery has up to 50% bycatch and recorded a take on endangered leatherbacks last year. This fishery targets swordfish and sharks, two species so high in mercury that we should not even eat them. Near closing my comments, I made it clear that we can be a trusted resource to the OPC for their needs to gain information on California’s deadly fisheries and the abundance of data we have on the contamination of our seafood by mercury from our Got Mercury? Project.
The OPC and other folks commenting were all interested in expanded contamination testing of our seafood for our own sustainable health and to perhaps clear-up some public perceptions about contaminants tainting local seafood in Southern California. We strongly support this position and will be working with the OPC towards achieving strong contaminant testing in the sustainable seafood program.
The plastic bag ban press event was a huge success! We were disappointed that the organizers decided against a sea turtle and oceans rally along with the standard podium and speeches, but we were happy to be there showing strong support. An excellent video compilation featuring speeches by Schwarzenegger, Brownly, and an articulate Girl Scout was shot and edited by Deb and is below.
Aussies Protest Big Oil
Posted by Teri Shore on November 30th, 2010
Read the story.
Kimberley Rally to Stop Massive Gas Plant Draws a Crowd!
Posted by Teri Shore on November 29th, 2010
About 1,000 people turned out in Cottesloe, the cool beachside town that the Western Australian premier Collin Bennett calls home, to drive home a simple message: Save the Kimberley! I missed the Sunday, November 28, rally as I was on an airplane flying from San Francisco to Sydney and lost that day in transit! Now I'm here in Fremantle gearing up for a week of meetings and actions with the Wilderness Society of W.A. before heading off to Broome to help monitor Australian flatback sea turtles at EcoBeach!
Watch the blog and Facebook for updates over the next three weeks!
See the Save the Kimberley news coverage in the West Australian.
And on ABC News Australia.
Fun and Games with Chevron
Posted by Teri Shore , Program Director on November 17th, 2010
A dispatch from Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron Campaign:
Continuing the comedic wave of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign, check out the latest video from the folks at Funny Or Die -- this time a behind the scenes look at how Chevron came up with its ad concept -- an "Anatomy of a Greenwash," if you will. Here's the link:
Nothing like comedy to reach the hearts and minds. Please share with your networks.
And if you haven't done so already, please vote now for your favorite Chevron We Agree spoof ad:
RAN is doing this jointly with Amazon Watch and The Yes Men and have received some 200 entries from creative designers around the world. The winners will receive a framed copy of their ad signed by The Yes Men and will be mass produced and posted across the country by our supporters. RAN will be announcing the winners this Friday.
Australian Activists Protest Big Oil Invasion of Kimberley
Posted by on November 17th, 2010
The fight against the proposed new LNG plant in the Kimberley region of Northwestern Australia is heating up with protestors blocking the access road to James Price Point. Big Oil is preparing to clear out ancient bush in order to make way for the fossil fuel boondoggle.
Thousands of postcards from people who want to protect the Kimberley are being delivered this week to the Prime Minister of Australia in Canberra.
Activists loaded up a camel with the postcards to launch the send-off of the postcards.
Read the full story at ABC News Australia.
Saving Sea Turtles from Plastics on the Streets of Los Angeles
Posted by Ashley Platz, actress and sea turtle volunteer on November 16th, 2010
Sea turtle advocate and STRP supporter Ashley Platz rallied with oceans activists led by folks at Heal the Bay on the
steps of the Hall of Administration on Temple Street in Downtown, Los
Angeles to support a plastic bag ban. Here is her story from the front line:
Everyone was wearing blue shirts and holding signs that read
slogans like; "Ban The Bag," "Dolphins Don't Shop," & "$21 every
second is wasted making plastic bags."
This friendly group of a few in
blue, soon grew to a small friendly mob of chanting hearts. Tons of
attention was grabbed from the media, to pedestrians, to city employees
on their way to work and even some drivers passing by the scene.
By 9:30 am all attention was on
Even with my background in oceans and sea turtle conservation I was astonished to learn some of the more recent numbers, such
as 1 shopper per year will use on average 500 plastic bags. Learning and acting to solve problems for sea turtles is
why I think this rally was fantastic, and because of all the facts behind the horrors of plastic bag pollution I am not surprised that LA County
passed the plastic bag ban. I am proud to live in a county that listens
to it's people and respects the fact that GREEN jobs will be brought
into Los Angeles to create the fabric shopping bags that will soon be a
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors put the plastic bag ban measure to vote, and it passed 3-1! This historic decision will need to pass another vote to finalize the language of the future ordinance, which will go in to effect in 2011. Click here to read more about this historic decision.
I was really proud to represent the sea turtles as a volunteer with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP). Being far from their main office hasn't stopped me from making a big difference, whether it is attending a local rally, using my Facebook page to share STRP action alerts, or creating the STRP Facebook Cause page, which now has over 15,000 supports!
Photo: Ashley Platz, far right, holds a sign showing a sea turtle suffocating on a plastic bag at the L.A. County hearing. (photo credit Kristin Carlisle).
Six Months of BP Oil Toxic Turmoil for Sea Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 22nd, 2010
Recently I have received personal Thank You letters from children and invitations to speak or write about the BP spill, but while the support is greatly appreciated it barely buoys my heavy heart that still feels the deep pain and suffering of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, marine mammals, and the wonderful people in the Gulf coast communities that were impacted by the BP oil spill. We are now six months from the horrific explosion that triggered the massive gusher of crude oil. Even more troubling is thinking of how 5 months ago the Gulf was covered in fresh, toxic oil and the public had no idea of the true extent of the amount of oil spewing into the homes of 5 species of sea turtles. BP's "controlled burns" started at the beginning of May, and it was not until June 11 that a fisherman was brave enough to share with the world his firsthand account of sea turtles that BP allowed to be dragged into the burn zones alive.
Six months have passed, but that is only a fraction of the time we expect to be monitoring the oil spill's effects on sea turtles, seafood safety, and the long-term impacts of the BP spill. In a recent interview on KPFA's award winning radio show Flashpoints with Denis Bernstein, I shared my concerns about the current conditions, the need for more transparent science, and how the Sea Turtle Restoration Project wants conditions in the Gulf to change in order to assist sea turtle recovery and restoration.
To listen to the radio interview, which includes gripping accounts from Louisiana residents and fishermen, click here.
To download and read out latest report outlining steps needed to assist sea turtle recovery and habitat restoration, click here.
All the support and appreciation shared to date has been tremendous, and I want to extend a huge amount of gratitude to all those that have written in, called, or sent donations to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project over the last month. Thank You!
Blue and Humpback Whales Abundant in Search for Leatherback Sea Turtles Offshore of San Francisco
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 19th, 2010
Educating the public about the biology, ecology, and conservation challenges faced by critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles is always a satisfying experience for me. While many Californians take pride in their stewardship of the beautiful ecosystems in their backyard and offshore of our beaches, very few folks are aware that sea turtles call our oceans home for many months of the year.
"Really? Those sea turtles are around here? I had no idea!"
"I've never heard of leatherback sea turtles."
"There are sea turtles in California? Where do they make their nests? How many are there? Is it just leatherbacks that eat jellyfish?"
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all sea turtle species and is specially adapted to thrive when in the cold waters of the California current. The green, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles frequently forage offshore of Southern California while the leatherback has been observed as far north as the Canadian border. The cold currents are home to its favorite jellyfish prey, the brown sea nettle. A single leatherback sea turtle can eat hundreds of jellyfish each day when their dense populations aggregate in ocean current convergences.
I joined an expedition with other ocean conservationists and California tourists to search for the elusive leatherback in an area where high densities have been recorded, the oceans outside of San Francisco and out to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The trip was part of SHARKTOBER events led by film producer and activist David McGuire and I was invited along as a guest Naturalist. Also on board was STRP volunteer extraordinaire Deb Castellena. Our vessel, the Outer Limits, was smooth as silk and the pride of the fleet for the SF Bay Whale Watching operation. We departed at dawn with a full boat and overcast skies.
The arrival at the Farallone Islands was spectacular! This small refuge is the largest pelagic sea bird nesting site on the west coast of the U.S., supporting hundreds of thousands of birds that are rarely if ever seen while on land.
Our goal was to spot rare leatherback sea turtles and document their location with coordinates and photographs. We were also on the lookout for great white sharks, which migrate to this area in the fall. And of course, whales! We had been on the boat for over 2 hours and not a single whale blow had been spotted, but as we motored south of the southeast islands, things changes quickly. A small group of humpback whales was spotted and they slowly approached our boat. We all scrambled to see them, take pictures, and smell that unforgettable "whale breath."
Then the blue whales arrived and stole the show. Massive in their overall proportions, it is quite a sight to see the tiny dorsal fin that pokes up from the largest living creature on earth. Our boat stopped, but the blues kept coming. We were all amazed when two blues surfaced only 100 meters from the boat, and then 3 humpbacks surfaced right in front of them! The video clip below captured by Deb documented this rare moment none of us will ever forget.
David and I spent the entire afternoon answering questions about sea turtles, whales, sharks, sea birds and the dense aggregations of krill we could see from the surface. Working in cooperation with other ocean conservationists only serves to strengthen our message, which was very well received by all on board. We had a great time doing it too, as can be seen in the photo on the right (Chris Pincetich, left; David McGuire, right).
Unfortunately, no leatherbacks were sighted on this trip. We have gathered information from several other charter operations confirming the presence of leatherbacks off of California right now, and will be publishing these soon. The work of an endangered species biologist can be difficult when attempts to gather observations of rare species are fruitless, but in this case, dozens of passengers joined the Sea Turtle Restoration Project email list, even more took our printed newsletters home to read and share, and they all saw unforgettable sights that will no doubt increase their love for the oceans and desire for their conservation.
Sharing the Deadly Truth About Longlines
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on October 15th, 2010
Sometimes, the truth can be ugly. This is definitely the case when discussing how so many seafood diners start with the deadly practice of longline fishing, a commercial fishing gear type that kills thousands of sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and sea birds each year. International longline boats have a horrible reputation for fishing in closed areas for shark fins, creating massive amounts of marine debris, and killing countless sea turtles. When approached while fishing illegally, they have been documented cutting their lines in a rush to escape and leaving miles of abandoned line, hooks, and dead sea life that can continue to harm ocean for decades to come.
Saving sea turtles means bringing this horrible practice of longlining and the massive bycatch it creates to a stop. Education is one tool to stop longlines, but only if consumers take the necessary step of halting their purchases of swordfish and tuna, which are the two species targeted by most longline fisheries.
This video below shows a display of the massive number of innocent sea turtles and marine life killed as bycatch in longines. It was set up in the California Academy of Sciences during a Night Life event by Sea Stewards in partnership with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Thousands of guests learned a valuable lesson, that the swordfish on their dinner plate comes at a high cost, the lives of innocent sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks.
Special recognition should be made to David McGuire and all the fabulous volunteers at Sea Stewards.
Saving Hawaii's tropical fish and coral reefs from demise
Posted by Teri Shore on October 11th, 2010
|Yellow tang, Snorkel Bob photo, copyright - do not use without permission|
Hawaii conservationist, author and reef photographer Robert Wintner, also known as Snorkel Bob, explained the need to protect tropical fish and corals from the aquarium trade during a media and ocean community briefing today in San Francisco. He warned of uncontrolled tropical fish collection by commercial collectors in the Hawaiian Islands.
"The aquarium trade is a severe threat to reefs and tourism and an affront to Hawaiian culture," said Wintner, who is Executive Director of the Snorkel Bob Foundation and owner of Snorkel Bob's across Hawaii.
He recently helped establish regulations to control aquarium extraction in Maui County and underwrote legal action to protect Pacific leatherbacks from swordfish hooks in the Hawaii longline fleet. He is in the San Francisco Bay Area launch his new book, "Some Fishes I Have Known," which profiles reef fish in a social setting and underscores the threat posed by commercial aquarium extraction. See his blog on the Huffington Post. Download his bio here. Download book info here. Download fact sheet on Hawaiian aquarium trade here.
Robert explained that the incredibly bright yellow tangs that grace the cover of the book are easy to catch and often used as "loss leaders" by tropical fish stores to sell other more expensive species. Robert explained that the Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii was once called the Gold Coast because yellow tangs numbering in the hundreds of thousands swam along the reefs there. Now they are mostly gone. Once captured and shipped to California or China or elsewhere around the globe, the yellow tangs usually die within 30 days of captivity. And where these fish have been decimated, coral reefs suffer and die from overgrowth of algae that the yellow tangs keep in check.
Another victim of the aquarium trade is the Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, which is considered charismatic and in demand by the aquarium trade. However, this specialized fish will starve in 30 days without 30 to 40 other fish to clean daily. Hawaiian cleaner wrasses protect reefs from parasite infestation, yet they ship out daily by the hundreds from Hawaii with no limit and no constraint.
What to do?
Robert is leading the effort to establish laws in Hawaii to regulate aquarium collection. A Maui ordinance recently adopted by the county government will take the first steps to slow carte blanche extraction.
We at Turtle Island Restoration Network support his call to to rein in this trade of marine wildlife for aquariums, which is no different than any other "pet" trade - remember wild macaws and other birds being taken before laws were enacted?
Here are some other actions that we agree will help turn the tide:
1. Home aquarium collectors need to learn about the source of their tropical fish; and when the fish die, instead of replenishing, take the aquarium down for good.
2. People who love reefs and fish can replace the color and beauty in their home with alternatives like projecting lifelike images on a flatscreen TV. Have you ever seen those fake holograph fireplaces that look so realistic?
3. Set standards through state and federal for aquarium collection and if needed ban the practice to protect the health of coral reefs. With global warming, the world's coral reefs are at risk. Hawaii's could be the last intact coral reefs to survive. They should be given a chance for long-term survival.
Summer Internship Reflections
Posted by Amy Kreimeier, Summer Intern on September 27th, 2010
My internship with STRP this summer has taught me more than I could have imagined on the issues concerning the welfare of sea turtles around the globe. The professional experience and skills that I acquired while working the STRP offices this summer will benefit me in almost any career I choose.
When I first learned that I would be an intern for STRP I was beyond thrilled, I have always been an advocate and supporter of sea turtle protection. It was not until I arrived at STRP did I fully come to understand all of the factors occurring in oceans and on land that affect sea turtles around the world. To hear about the effect plastic pollution has on endangered leatherback sea turtles and long-line fishing techniques being used around the globe that drown sea turtles daily is truly heartbreaking.
Over the summer I was able to take on several projects and duties at STRP including: educating children about endangered sea turtles and the effect the Gulf Coast oil spill has on populations; researching new information on sea turtles and compiling a list of achievements STRP has had with each particular species of turtle; assisting with publicity for the upcoming art show and auction; creating and managing the Facebook page ONE MILLION AGAINST BP OIL BURNING SEA TURTLES and working with the Got Mercury campaign.
The majority of my time at STRP was spent working on the Got Mercury campaign, which helps bring awareness to the issue of mercury in seafood. If more efforts are taken to ban mercury-laden fish, such as tuna and swordfish, from consumers there will be less long-line fishing and less sea turtles, who are caught and drowned in these lines. I helped to compile a list of all studies and articles that pertain to mercury in waterways and fish so that they can be easily referenced. I also worked daily to post on all blog and newspaper articles that related to mercury consumption directions to a personal mercury intake calculator at gotmercury.org. Using my social media skills I also promoted Got Mercury on the web and expanded it’s fan base.
To work for this organization during the worst environmental crisis ever, has been intense and humbling. The effects this oil spill has on endangered sea turtles, particularly nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, has brought worldwide attention to the plight of sea turtles. STRP was overloaded with calls and media requests on a daily basis and it was a very valuable experience to be a part of.
My time at STRP has been truly rewarding going far beyond my expectations. Every day was a new experience that taught me something different. I am so thankful that I was able to help this organization and work with such amazing and dedicated people.
Gulf Shrimpers Collecting Oil and Shrimp on the Same Day
Posted by Chris Pincetich, Campaigner and Marine Biologist on September 17th, 2010
Concerns over Gulf of Mexico seafood seem to be validated by this video clip below taken just outside the Mississippi River in late August. Shrimp boats dot the horizon, even before sunset, and while some are carrying BP booms to cleanup oil others are catching seafood for consumption.
Some Gulf shrimpers refuse to trawl for seafood, knowing there is oil lurking below the surface and they may be contributing to serving toxic seafood. Their reluctance is also due to the overwhelming media and U.S. agency response that the Gulf is no longer troubled by oil, and they know firsthand this is not the case.
As a sea turtle conservation advocate, I already have banned shrimp from my kitchen and ignore it when on a restaurant menu. Shrimp trawls kill hundreds of sea turtles a year! For millions of Gulf residents, they now must consider their own boycott of shrimp to save themselves.
To read more about current seafood and environmental sampling, visit the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.