Hundreds of turtles have been found dead after becoming tangled in a fishing net off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Mexico’s federal agency for environmental protection announced more than 300 olive ridley sea turtles were found floating together, their shells cracked from spending more than a week under the sun, while trapped in the net.
Although it’s unclear what exactly killed the turtles, many of them had injuries which looked to be inflicted by fishing hooks and nets.
The sad news comes just a few days after another 113 turtles were found dead, washed ashore in Mexico’s Chiapas state, around 100 miles from Oaxaca, reports National Geographic.
Animals being caught and killed accidentally, while fishermen pursue other species is a huge problem for wildlife around the world.
Bryan Wallace, a marine biologist who’s studied sea turtles for almost 20 years, suggested the turtles in Oaxaca could have been victims of a ‘ghost net’.
Ghost nets are, according to Wallace, ‘gear lost by its owner and not retrieved for one reason or another’.
As smaller animals get caught in the ghost nets, they can attract larger predators and scavengers, who in turn, get caught in the net.
300 endangered turtles were found dead off Mexico’s Pacific coast after they became caught in fishing nets. They come to the area once a year to breed. pic.twitter.com/FmkvndYEMj
— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 28, 2018
To catch that many turtles means [the net] was probably fishing on its own for a good while, based on the level of decomposition evident in many of the animals.
The olive ridley species of sea turtle is listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, however in Mexico, they’re listed as endangered. Globally, the population of olive ridley sea turtles remains in decline, and is considered ‘vulnerable’ to extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Despite the recent tragedy, the population of olive ridley sea turtles in the area is being managed well thanks to strict regulations put in place by Mexico and other states.
In fact, Bryan suggests Mexico’s southwestern coastline is a fertile breeding ground for this type of turtle, and the ones caught in the net could have been on their way to the beaches to mate.
Olive Ridleys are easily the most abundant species in the region. So numerically speaking, this isn’t going to trigger a population collapse. It does, of course, act as an alarm bell.
Mexican authorities are currently investigating the incident and the circumstances which led to it. Bryan added how it’s important no one rushes to blame local fishermen for the deaths.
Tragic occurrence in Oaxaca.
Yesterday in Barra de Colotepec, more than 300 olive ridley turtles drowned entangled in a fishing net. –
We are in the middle of arribada, or mass nesting, season when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sea tu… https://t.co/NulhAw0XXr pic.twitter.com/FEq3GN9Kwm
— WILDCOAST (@WILDCOAST) August 29, 2018
This is a super complicated issue and there are a lot of communities, especially in Mexico, who do their best and are trying to do more, and they already live in a pretty challenging set of circumstances.
This is not a new thing. It’s just going to take a while.
Authorities in Mexico banned the capture of sea turtles in 1990, and there are large penalties for anyone found killing them.
Olive ridleys are the smallest species of sea turtle, found in warm and tropical waters. They grow to about two feet in length and can live for up to 50 years.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.