Yesterday, Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project & I visited with the good folks at the Gulf Restoration Network in downtown New Orleans. Meeting with Blue Frontier / Peter Benchley Award Winner Cyn Sarthou and her staff, we discussed many aspects of the plight of the Gulf and it’s endangered turtle species.
Aside from the obvious threat of exposure to oil, turtles are in harms way on many different fronts. Not all states enforce the use of TEDs – turtle extruder devices which are installed in shrimper’s nets to allow trapped turtles to escape without drowning.
Sea turtles must surface to breathe approximately every 20 minutes or suffocate. Some states put the economic hardship to their fishermen above wildlife welfare, and this has caused additional turtle mortality beyond what has already been caused by the oil and dispersants. And now, with shrimping season re-opening, many are worried about how many more turtles will lose their lives.
It is definitely a tough call. The economic impact to the shrimping families here is staggering and it’s hard to think about enforcing any law that makes it even worse for them.
It was interesting to learn that there are actually three shrimping areas in the Gulf – The deep bayou, the coastal area, and the deep sea fisheries. Sea turtles do not live in the deep bayou, plus these fishermen are working in shallower areas. If they use TEDs, it hinders their work and lowers their catch. Obviously, coastal and open ocean shrimp fisheries must continue to use these devices. It seems that at every turn, the complexities of the situation here become more evident.
It seems that the biggest problem right now for Gulf turtles are the dredging operations rebuilding some of the barrier islands. It was fascinating to learn more about the Mississippi Delta system and how the Army Corps of Engineers and others continue to battle the natural course of this mighty river – year after year, costing literally billions of dollars. Here’s an amazing fact. The Mississippi delta is losing a football field every day to the sea.
The Army Corps of Engineers devised a plan some years ago to deploy 60’ long trawling nets in the area of dredging where turtles are suspected to be present. Turtles caught in the net are relocated out of harm’s way from the dredging operation. Despite these measures, however it seems that turtles are being killed by the dredges in increasing numbers. And the unfortunate thing is that if turtles are caught up in the hopper dredges, no one ever knows. I’ll spare you the gory details.
I, for one am not convinced that there is any long term benefit to building up these barrier islands. After spending many days flying over them, I don’t see how they could possibly offer much protection to the mainland from a hurricane. And with climate change and the sea level rise that will come with it, how long should we throw good money after bad, all the while endangering fragile species along the way?
Perhaps it’s time to let Mother Nature and the Mississippi follow their natural course, and take what they will back into the sea.