Friday, October 19, 2007

At loggerheads

Peter Aldhous reports:
In March 2006, the entire Hawaiian swordfish fishery was shut down for the season - 120 boats consigned to port after their hooks snagged their 17th loggerhead turtle of the year. Now it turns out that a dozen Mexican fishermen, sailing six tiny boats with outboard motors, posed an even greater threat, drowning 700 loggerheads in a year.

...researchers calculate that in 2005 the gill nets killed at least 299 turtles and the long lines more than 680. That is catastrophic, as the US National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that the loss of just a few dozen large juveniles per year would "appreciably increase" the population's risk of extinction.

Under a project called GloBAL researchers are looking to see if similar disasters are unfolding elsewhere. But in Mexico, at least, there is some good news. [Hoyt] Peckham [of the University of California, Santa Cruz] and his colleagues worked hard to stress the value of conservation - even bringing over fishermen from Japan, who told their Mexican colleagues of crashing turtle populations on the nesting beaches.

Last month, the long-line fleet agreed to use alternative fishing gear. "That was the most powerful conservation action I'll probably be able to make in my career," Peckham says.
This story is tragic, with a dash of hope. The direct relevance to coral reef protection may be limited but here are three possible links:

1) There may be lessons for more sustainable small-scale fisheries directly affecting reefs;

2) Some of the seven sea turtle species play a direct role in the ecology of coral reefs. I understand that green turtles, for example, are important herbivores on reefs. Other species may play a role indirectly through their consumption of seagrass and other organisms. Healthy reefs produce sand in which, ultimately, many but by no means all turtles nest; and

3) Mexico's Pacific coast is not entirely devoid of hard coral, as there is Cabo Pulmo. A whole eco-region conservation approach could better protect both coral and turtle.

Why care? David Rains Wallace quotes John Steinbeck: "There is some quality in man than makes him people the ocean with monsters...An ocean without its unnamed monsters would be like a completely dreamless sleep".

Without its known wonders the ocean would be a desolate waking.

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