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After Deepwater Horizon: Early Restoration for Sea Turtles

NOAA Fisheries Gear Management Team, team leader Canh Nguyen checking the grid angle during an “at sea” TED inspection off Galveston Texas. (Credit: NOAA)

This year marks the first full year of implementation of the Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project. Developed to begin restoring turtle populations affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this project is a collaboration between NOAA, the Department of Interior, and the State of Texas. Our efforts are already seeing success!

Following the spill, BP pledged $1 billion for early restoration efforts while the Natural Resource Damage Assessment was still underway and before the case eventually settled. With some of this funding, NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and the State of Texas developed an integrated project to help restore sea turtle populations in the Gulf of Mexico. The 10-year project is aimed at reducing threats to all species of sea turtles on nesting beaches and in the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico, with a primary focus on Kemp’s ridley, green, and loggerhead sea turtles.

The project has four complementary components 1) Kemp’s Ridley Nest Detection and Enhancement, 2) Enhancement of the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network and Development of an Emergency Response Program, 3) Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Trawl Bycatch Reduction, and 4) Texas Enhanced Fisheries Bycatch Enforcement. NOAA Fisheries is implementing the stranding network and bycatch reduction components, while DOI and Texas are implementing the Kemp’s ridley nesting beach and Texas enforcement components.

The early restoration funding is already having an impact. NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center Pascagoula, MS Laboratory is enhancing their Gear Monitoring Team (GMT) program by adding two new teams, increasing their outreach and assistance to fishermen on proper Turtle Excluder Device (TED) installation and use. One of the new teams is now in place, helping improve TED compliance and reduce turtle bycatch in shrimp trawlers working  in the Gulf. Beginning in February 2017, NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center Shrimp Trawl Fisheries Observer program was able to enhance observer coverage to provide a greater understanding of sea turtle bycatch in this GOM fishery. The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network is providing additional support for stranding response in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama.

The improved capabilities and coordination of the Gear Monitoring Team, Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, and Observer Program will help reduce bycatch, improve our understanding of mortality factors, and ultimately contribute to sea turtle restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. In April 2017, we saw specifically how the enhancement and improved coordination of these three programs can benefit sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network documented significant increases in sea turtle strandings in Texas in April. The GMT was alerted and traveled to Texas to conduct at-sea TED inspections with Texas Parks and Wildlife Division (TPWD) enforcement officers. TPWD had already ramped up enforcement effort as part of the Texas enforcement component of the early restoration project, but the combination of the two programs allowed for even greater coverage. While no major violations were observed, several minor TED bar spacing corrections were needed. Proper bar spacing will allow most small  turtles to escape through the TED. While many factors likely contributed to the elevated strandings, the presence of the GMT and law enforcement in Texas--and their efforts to ensure TEDs are properly installed and up to specifications--can reduce turtle bycatch and mortality from shrimp trawl interactions.

A sea turtle escapes from a Turtle Excluder Device during gear testing and research by NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center. Credit: NOAA under scientific research permit.

More Information

Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project Fact Sheet [PDF]

Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project details (updated annually)

The Road to Restoration for Sea Turtles (Sea Turtle Week 2016 feature)