NOAA sero-00-034
Contact: Chris Smith

Citizens Cautioned to Avoid Contact With Sea Turtles

Today scientists from NOAA Fisheries' Panama City, Pascagoula and Galveston Laboratories will begin their annual research into the effectiveness of turtle excluder devices. The testing is expected to continue for approximately two weeks. A TED is a special component of a shrimp trawl that enables sea turtles to escape from shrimpers' nets while minimizing the loss of shrimp. Thousands of sea turtles drowned each year in shrimp trawls before the use of TEDs became mandatory in 1989.

Every year since the mid-1980s NOAA Fisheries has tested new and existing TED designs in Gulf of Mexico waters near Shell Island, about two miles south of Panama City Beach, Fla. During the testing, divers observe and videotape sea turtles' behavior to document how well they are able to escape from TED-equipped shrimp trawls. Scientists and managers use the data obtained from this important research to determine whether innovative TED designs can be approved for use throughout the shrimping industry.

A key to the reliability of the research is that it entails the use of live, captive-raised loggerhead sea turtles. Each year 200 2-year-old loggerheads that were captured as hatchlings in Florida but raised at NOAA Fisheries' Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, Texas are returned to Florida for use in the testing. On average, the turtles are 18 inches long and weigh 15 pounds.

"The loggerheads used for TED testing are not harmed in any way and are returned to the wild at the completion of the study," said research fishery biologist Ben Higgins"We've always done everything possible to prepare these turtles for their reintroduction into the wild. Each one has a metal tag affixed to its right front flipper that has an identification code and a contact address embossed upon it. All evidence indicates that they become fully assimilated into the wild stocks and don't suffer any adverse effects from being raised in captivity or used in this research."

"When we complete the tests, we will release the turtles in areas of the Gulf of Mexico where wild turtles of the same size and maturity are found," continued Higgins"Once released, the turtles will begin seeking sources of food and may venture into passes and bays where crabs and other shellfish, the staple of their diet, are commonly found. This is natural behavior for young sea turtles and people should allow them to forage unmolested."

It is common for people to encounter sea turtles in areas that are popular recreational destinations like beaches, docks and piers. However, it is a violation of the Endangered Species Act for people to touch, disturb or injure sea turtles. So people should never approach or attempt to catch or feed them. Even small sea turtles will bite people and can inflict painful wounds if handled or provoked

"Turtles that exit the water or appear to be experiencing difficulty swimming may have been injured," said Higgins"People who see sea turtles that appear to be in distress or injured should contact the Marine Law Enforcement Division of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at (800) 342-5367. The FWCC will ensure that such turtles are examined and treated by qualified wildlife professionals. If people encounter a dead sea turtle on the beach they should not remove any tags and report its location immediately to the FWCC."

NOAA Fisheries urges citizens to report fishery violations during weekly business hours of 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Eastern, to its Southeast Region Law Enforcement Division at (727) 570-5344, or after hours and weekends at its National Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.

NOAA Fisheries is an agency of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support fisheries management, fisheries development, trade, and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs.