Illuminated Nets Will Save Sea Turtles Economically

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New research has shown that for a relatively low cost, sea turtles getting caught up in nets could reduced by nearly 65% in a reasonably cost-effective manner and even cheaper if adopted on a larger scale.

Simple lighting could go a long ways for sea turtle

Conservation biologists from the University of Exeter have just published a paper in the Marine Ecology Progress Series that shows that for a reasonably low cost green turtles’ lives can be saved in great numbers with the simple used of batter-powered light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to gillnets that are used by smaller fisheries. All this can be done without reducing the catch of the nets’ intended targets according to Jeffrey Mangel, a Darwin Initiative research fellow based in Peru, and Brendan Godley, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University’s Penryn Campus.

The two were part of a research team that carried out the testing of the LEDs in Sechura Bay in northern Peru. While I don’t have any real strong feelings about sea turtles either way, I did like the one voiced by Sean Penn in “Finding Nemo” and if it can be done cheap enough I think it’s a brilliant idea.

The ground-breaking study was funded by ProDelphinus, the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study is fairly ground-breaking as it was the first that was trialed in a working fishery. The lights, which cost about $2 each showed that it cost about $34 to save each turtle, while that may sound like quite and expense, the researchers were quick to point out that if adopted on a large scale that number would go down significantly.

Thousands of turtles are killed each year as bycatch, a nice word for tangled in a net meant for other sea dwellers. Peru’s fleet sets about 100,000 kms of gillnets each year.

Utilizing the LEDs to save sea turtles

In this case, the researchers used 114 pairs of nets measuring roughly 500 meters in length. Green light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were placed every 10 meters along the floatline of the nets. The other net in the pair was not illuminated and acted as the control in the study. The illuminated nets caught 62 green turtles. The non-illuminated nets that acted as the control in the study “caught” 125 green turtles which is nothing short of a massive difference. In addition to the turtle numbers, the catch of guitarfish the nets were intended for was the same in both the illuminated and control nets. The group is hoping to begin using different colored LEDs to illuminate nets at a larger fishery in the near future.

“This is very exciting because it is an example of something that can work in a small-scale fishery which for a number of reasons can be very difficult to work with. These lights are also one of very few options available for reducing turtle bycatch in nets,” said Mangel.

“The turtle populations in the eastern Pacific are among the world’s most vulnerable and we are hoping that by reducing bycatch, particularly in gillnets, will help with the management and eventual recovery of these populations.”

In addition to the green turtles, the North of Peru is home to more threatened species of sea turtles including the olive ridley and hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback among others.

“It is exciting to be part of research that is highlighting innovative methods that may assist the move towards sustainability in these fisheries,” notes Godley. “Understanding costings will help emphasize the need for institutional support from national ministries, international non-governmental organizations and the broader fisheries industry to make possible widespread implementation of net illumination as a sea turtle bycatch reduction strategy.”

“Bycatch is a complex, global issue that threatens the sustainability and resilience of our fishing communities, economies and ocean ecosystems,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Funding research like this is key to NOAA’s efforts to reduce bycatch. Through this work, we can better protect our natural resources.”

And that is the key at the end of the day, getting costs down especially in developing nations where it’s is difficult for many to understand the importance of the sea turtle in relation to the needs of the population and the fishing industries in countries like Peru that are required to live off of everything that nature provides including the sea. Threatened and endangered species rarely bounce back and its important they are protected while there is still time. Conservation costs go up dramatically the more endangered a specie becomes.

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