NOAA'S SEA TURTLE RESEARCH GAINS ADDITIONAL RECOGNITION
June 2, 2005 — Two NOAA Fisheries Service researchers, George Balazs and Yonat Swimmer, both with the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Hawaii, have been recognized for their exemplary sea turtle research and recovery efforts this year. Not only does their research contribute toward achieving one of the NOAA PIFSC's primary goals (to achieve the biological recovery and sustained management of sea turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean), but it reflects recent trends in NOAA sea turtle research and conservation efforts throughout the world.
Core Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation Efforts
Balazs helped place the turtles on the federal endangered species list in 1978 and has overseen research on sea turtle biology, ecology and life history throughout his career. Balazs attributes much of the sea turtle population recovery over the last few decades to the Endangered Species Act and education efforts — in which he has played a major role — that have shifted Hawaiian's residents perceptions of sea turtles from a source of food to a native species they are proud to protect.
His work with radio transmitters — attached to sea turtles that were caught and released from commercial longline vessels — has shown that sea turtles often take long open-ocean routes from their feeding sites to nesting areas and that they can navigate hundreds of miles without landmarks.
Today, he is recognized as one of the world's foremost sea turtle experts in Hawaii, Japan and many other parts of the world inhabited by sea turtles. His work has been published in numerous scientific publications, and he has served as a scientific advisor on a prestigious list of global turtle conservation groups.
Sea Turtle Behavioral and Physiology Research
Starting in the fall of 2005, Swimmer will work collaboratively with scientists and students from the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Projeto TAMAR, and Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis in Bahia, Brazil. Swimmer’s research will focus on determining if large circle hooks or other gear or bait modifications could be used effectively to both increase catch target species, while simultaneously reducing sea turtle bycatch — a practice that has already proven to be successful and is now required by law in the United States. Swimmer also will use state-of the art satellite technology to help determine the probability of mortality for sea turtles after their release from longline fishing gear. Using pop-up satellite archival tags, which are attached to the shells of incidentally-caught sea turtles, Swimmer will track their movements for close to six months post-release. Rates of post-hooking mortality and morbidity will be correlated with other data collected, such as hook location, severity of injury and a general assessment of each turtle's health. Because PSATs also have sensors that record hourly data on swimming depth, water temperature and geolocation, Swimmer’s research also will contribute toward a better understanding of environmental factors that influence turtle's movements. Lastly, Swimmer also hopes to assess the health status of sea turtles following a longline fisheries encounter by analyzing various blood chemistry parameters from incidentally caught sea turtles. In this way, she and her collaborators hope to gain insight into the extent of injury and the probability of survival for turtles subjected to various stressors. In combination with the satellite tracking, this information could prove to be a useful tool in evaluating mortality of sea turtles due to fisheries interactions.
Fisheries Service would not enjoy the international clout and reputation
as leaders in marine science if we didn’t have the world’s
most capable and dedicated scientists on our staff," said Bill
Hogarth, director of the NOAA Fisheries Service. "We are fortunate
Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
NOAA, in collaboration with partners, has made substantial progress in identifying and reducing human threats to turtle populations in recent years, but there is more work to be done. For example, NOAA has seen how the required use of turtle excluder devices in shrimp fisheries (both in the United States and by countries exporting wild caught shrimp into the United States) — in conjunction with full protection of nesting beaches in Mexico — is helping in the recovery of endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle population. Although regulations requiring the use of TEDs was put into place almost 15 years ago, NOAA continues working to improve the TEDs. Just last year, NOAA began requiring larger escape openings to allow even the largest turtles out of the nets. These larger openings will be required for foreign producers starting August 1, 2005. NOAA also has made progress in its next biggest challenge, sea turtle bycatch associated with longline fishing.
Turtle Bycatch Associated with Longline Fishing
During NOAA’s research, scientists found that sea turtle captures and injuries could be substantially reduced by prohibiting the use of traditional “J” hooks, which cause serious harm when swallowed by sea turtles, and replacing them with large circle hooks. Because of their shape, circle hooks are much less likely to catch turtles or to cause serious injury if a turtle does try to take the bait. Furthermore, because many sea turtle deaths occur when commercial fishing gear is not removed (or removed improperly) from the sea turtle, NOAA researchers and private industry also developed dehookers and line cutters — so that fishermen could remove longline gear when it was safe to do so without further injury to the sea turtle. Removing gear is believed to decrease post-release mortality. This research was such a success that, as of April 5, 2005, the NOAA Fisheries Service now requires the use of these new technologies in U.S. longline fisheries in both the Atlantic and Pacific.
"I am pleased that we found a solution that allowed NOAA to both reopen the Pacific and Atlantic waters to American longline fishermen and promote sea turtle conservation,” said Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries Service.” Hogarth added “It is now critical for NOAA to demonstrate to other countries that longline fisheries could use these tangible and effective methods of protecting turtles and still remain profitable.”
International Sea Turtle Efforts
NOAA Sea Turtle Efforts and Activities
NOAA Ocean Service
Relevant Web Sites