Agency Urged to Take Immediate Action on Sea Turtle Hot Spots
Forest Knolls, California—New proposed guidelines issued today by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have repeated the recommendation of an earlier panel of experts that immediate attention be given to the plight of critically endangered Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. Specifically, the report recommended that fisheries posing the greatest threats should be subjected to “temporary and spatially-limited controls.” Environmentalists are welcoming the recommendation to limit fishing in certain areas, and are urging the UN to specifically identify and take action on some of the hot spots of turtle-fishing interaction.
The FAO meeting took place from 29 November to 2 December in Bangkok, Thailand to consider efforts to reduce the capture and killing of sea turtles by fisheries.
The report suggests that the drafting of voluntary “technical guidelines” will be sufficient to address the threat of extinction to sea turtles and that an International Plan of Action, such as exists for sharks and seabirds, could be delayed indefinitely into the future. Environmentalists believe that immediate action can be taken on certain areas of the ocean where the turtle-fisher interaction is greatest.
“We welcome the FAO’s recommendation that closures and restrictions are needed to save sea turtles from extinction. However, action not delays are crucial to prevent the ancient leatherback sea turtle from going extinct,” said Robert Ovetz, PhD, the Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “Time is running out. The number of nesting female leatherbacks has collapsed by 95% in the Pacific since 1980.”
“The science already exists showing us what parts of the Pacific needs to be closed off to industrial longline fishing,” Ovetz added. “We need the UN to champion specific closures now. If we fail to act, we may lose the leatherback from the Pacific.”
This call for closures echoes statements made by 622 scientists from 54 countries and representatives of 173 non-governmental organizations from 35 countries urging the UN to take immediate action to protect leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles by implementing a Pacific-wide moratorium on gillnets and longlines. Among the scientists who have signed the appeal include the famed biologist E. O. Wilson and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.
Nesting female Pacific leatherbacks has declined by 95% since 1980. A recent study in the scientific journal Ecology Letters estimates that worldwide 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are caught each year by longlines. Scientists have warned that Pacific leatherbacks could go extinct within the next 5-20 years unless immediate action is taken to reverse their slide into oblivion. One of those actions is to impose a Pacific wide moratorium on longline fishing.
Last month, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project released “Pillaging the Pacific,” a report that estimated that about 4.4 million sharks, billfish, whales, dolphins, sea birds, and other marine species are maimed and killed by longlines each year in the Pacific alone. Closing these destructive fisheries will also protect these species.
•A copy of the FAO proposed guidelines is available at: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2004/52421/article_52428en.html
•The scientist and NGO petitions are available at:
•Review copies of the new documentary “Last journey for the leatherback?” are available
•Interviews with Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. Larry Crowder, expert on the impacts of longline fishing