10/04/2009

TURTLE STRANDINGS HIT A RECORD IN 2008!

by Dimitris Margaritoulis and Pavlos Tsaros

rekor-ekthalasswsewn-to-2008-EKBRASMOS_XELONAS1.jpg

Today the Network operates in full development, but there is always room for improvements. Members of the Network are all Coast Guard Stations which constitute its backbone and also municipalities, environmental organizations, groups of citizens, and many concerned individuals. Main objective of the Network is the reliable collection of information concerning deaths and injuries of sea turtles, aiming at mitigating the causing factors.

How the Network operates Observed strandings are reported by the network members with the filling of a special data sheet where the gender, size, and sex of the turtle are noted as well as other information (injuries, if the turtle is tagged, etc.). Network members inform always the local Coast Guard Station which calls the state vet to examine the cause of death and the local municipality to bury the dead animal. Data sheets are transmitted to the Rescue Centre where they are entered in a database and further analysed with GIS. Obviously in case of an injured turtle the communication with the Rescue Centre is immediate in order to arrange for the animalʼs transport to the Centre. Information of what you should do in case you encounter an injured or dead turtle you can find in http://www.archelon.gr/eng/nationalnetwork.php?row=row9

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The results The annual number of strandings (only the dead turtles) for the period 1994-2008 is shown on the graph below.

turtle-strandings-hit-a-record-in-2008-Strandings08Eng.gif

In the period 1994-2001 there is an upward trend with a maximum in 2001. However, this increase can be attributed – at least partly - to the increase of the networkʼs members and the raising of public awareness during this period. We shouldnʼt forget that sensitized citizens are mainly the ones who, in case they encounter a stranded turtle, inform either the local Coast Guard or the Rescue Centre.

From the graph it is seen that the period 2001-2004 is characterized by a continuous decrease until 2004. Here it should be noted that in this period ARCHELON was doing great efforts to inform and sensitize fishermen throughout Greece. These efforts, materialized through a diversity of actions, were co-financed by a European project aiming to reduce turtle mortalities at sea (LIFE/NAT/GR8500). This project has recently been declared as one of the most successful in European level.

Further, from 2004 until 2008 there is a continuous increase in the annual number of strandings with a peak of 292 strandings during 2008 (increase from 2004: 126%!).

What should be done It is clear that many turtles are captured incidentally in fishing gear. Internationally there are efforts to reduce these entanglements. Some countries have enforced the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), a device which automatically releases turtles captured in trawl nets. There is also ongoing research for the introduction of a new type of hook, the circle hook, which does not catch as many turtles as the conventional ones, in surface long-lines targeting tunas and swordfish. It is very difficult to do anything technical to reduce turtle by-catch in small-scale fisheries using static nets, bottom long-lines and beach seines. These widespread fishing gear will continue to catch turtles and some of them will inevitably die because they would not be able to breathe. Nevertheless the ones who survive the capture should be immediately released unharmed by the fishermen.

Sea turtles play important ecological roles in the marine ecosystem; in their diet they include jellyfish and crabs, both of which if their populations grow uncontrolled, may cause problems not only to the ecosystem but also to the fishermen. Many fishers have understood that a healthy sea cannot contain only first-class fish! All marine organisms play their role in a complex food web, through which the fish are also developed. For instance, in Amvrakikos Bay the many crabs create problems to local fishermen and the turtles in the Bay, feeding on crabs, contribute to the preservation of the ecological balance.

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