Select Page

Saving Sea Turtles by Improving Shrimp Boat Nets

Faithful readers of The Weedpatch Gazette will recall that I’ve veered away from plants and land conservation several times to write about how to save endangered sea turtles. I get especially passionate about this issue when we visit the Florida Keys. A stop in Marathon to see (maimed) turtles at The Turtle Hospital will make you realize that there can be a big downside to a day on a motorboat or eating a big plate of shrimp.

Boats, pollution from sewage (yes, it’s true, the Florida Keys are JUST NOW stopping their sewage from going into the ocean), and plastic bottles and grocery bags kill and maim these incredible creatures. The Atlantic Ocean is home to five out of the seven of the world’s species of sea turtles. All five are endangered–in danger of no longer breeding or living in the ocean. Can you imagine our lives without sea turtles?

Enter the National Marine Fisheries Service–which is part of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is part of the U.S. Dept of Commerce. Commerce will likely soon be headed by Wilbur Ross, billionaire steel- and shipping investor who will preside over, ahem, trade deals. This not only means issues like the TPP, but also Japan, Iceland, and Norway’s fishing of whales and our research on weather, climate science, melting ice, rising seas, and yes, sea turtles.

Last week the National Marine Fisheries Service at long last issued a proposed rule updating a proposed rule issued in 2012 (!) which was developed as a result of settling a lawsuit filed by several groups: the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sea Turtle Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife. The lawsuit was filed after 3,500 turtles turned up injured or dead in the Gulf of Mexico in the year after the BP Oil Spill (April, 2010). [See below]

By law all but one group of American ocean-fishing shrimp boats must use TED nets. (Imported shrimp must also prove that their boats use TEDs.) The new proposal would include those boats currently exempted: shrimp boats that fish in bays and estuaries. Instead of using TED nets, these boats limited the amount of time they fished, but that time restriction on them appears not to have helped the turtles enough. The turtles died en masse.

While I think most fishermen want to do right by animals even at some cost to themselves, I hope that the shrimp boat owners in shallower waters don’t put up a big stink and derail the rule. It’s possible though. Here’s the backstory as described in a 2010 article in the NYTimes describing the massive deaths of sea turtles not long after the BP Oil Spill:

Shrimpers emerged as a prime suspect in the NOAA investigation when, after a round of turtle necropsies in early May, Dr. Stacy announced that more than half the carcasses had sediment in the airways or lungs — evidence of drowning. The only plausible explanation for such a high number of drowning deaths, he said, was, as he put it, “fisheries interaction.”

Environmentalists saw the findings as confirmation of their suspicions that shrimpers, taking advantage of the fact that the Coast Guard and other inspectors were busy with the oil spill, had disabled their turtle excluder devices.

The devices are so contentious that Louisiana law has long forbidden its wildlife and fisheries agents to enforce federal regulations on the devices. Last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation that would have finally lifted the ban, citing the “challenges and issues currently facing our fishermen.” By contrast, Mississippi officials strengthened turtle protections by decreasing the allowable tow time for skimmers, posting observers on boats, and sending out pamphlets on turtle resuscitation.

Officials in both states say that turtles die in shrimp season even when shrimpers follow the law, from boat strikes and other accidents. They also say there have been far fewer shrimpers working since the spill, in part because many have hired out their boats to BP. That should mean fewer, not more, turtle deaths.

But there has also been illegal activity. In Louisiana, agents have seized more than 20,000 pounds of shrimp and issued more than 350 citations to commercial fishermen working in waters closed because of the oil spill. In Mississippi in June, three skimmer boats were caught exceeding legal tow times — one just hours after the shrimper had been given a handout explaining that the maximum time had been reduced, Lieutenant Armes said.

As for the piece of shrimp that Dr. Stacy found lodged in the turtle’s throat during the necropsy, it, too, pointed to shrimpers. A turtle is normally not quick enough to catch shrimp, Dr. Stacy said. Unless, of course, it is caught in a net with them.”

Please let NOAA Fisheries know by Feb 14 what you think of the rule (even if all you do is send them a link to this article). Please also do all you can to encourage conservative businessman Wilbur Ross to approve it. Maybe send him your message in a plastic water bottle?

A sea turtle will thank you…##

Here’s how the new net that releases turtles, sharks and other large animals works:

A Smidgen of Good News…And It Concerns a Trump

This morning I read the relatively welcome news that Donald Trump the Younger “quashed a competing candidate [U.S. Rep Cathy Rodgers]” as Donald Trump the Elder’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of the Interior and led his father to instead nominate Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke. This is big news, given that the very conservative, evangelical Mrs. Rodgers is the highest ranking Republican woman in the Congress and has participated in “environmental work” in Congress since her election in 2005. In contrast, Mr. Zinke is practically new in Congress.

What did The Younger have against Ms. Rodgers? It appears that The Younger is “a hunter with a professed interest in land issues…a member of a sportsmen’s group, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, that vigorously criticized Ms. Rodgers because of her support for selling off public land” [NYTimes, Dec. 16, 2016]. Indeed, BHA’s website offers lots of articles arguing against selling off public lands. How about this recent one: “Tell Your Congressman Where You Stand on Bad Public Land Transfer Deals”?

Hurrah for a smidgen of good news. It seems the Donald The Younger and the Queen Bee [me] might have something in common: land preservation, or at least not selling Federal land “just because”. Can it be? (Maybe I’ll join Backcountry Hunters & Anglers–only $25 for a membership.)

Donald the Younger’s ardent interest in hunting immediately brought to mind another wealthy hunter who called himself a conservationist: Teddy Roosevelt. Could it be possible that The Younger could become appreciated by people like me for urging his father to set aside more (!) land for national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, and national monuments? If it takes a wealthy hunter from Manhattan to speak up for bison, okay. Let’s hope. Cancel that. Let’s PRAY.

Donald the Younger’s interest made me also recall another beyond-wealthy “conservationist”: Laurence Spelman Rockefeller (1910-2004), on whom George Bush the Elder bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal in 1991. It was the first time the medal was ever given for contributions to conservation and historic preservation. The President praised “LSR” for “a life and works that would stand in summary of a century in which Americans had come to appreciate the very real problems of their environment, indeed of the world’s environment.” (President Bush did renew the Clean Air Act in 1990 even though conservatives didn’t want to, and he did appoint Bill Reilly, head of the World Wildlife Fund, as Administrator of the EPA, but that was about it for George’s environmental record.)

Laurence Rockefeller began as a conservationist and ended as an environmentalist. They are not the same thing, of course, as his biographer, Robin W Winks, points out in the excellent book, Laurence S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation. The former, conservation, “was a response to the destruction of the bison, the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the transformation of a once abundant land into barren and sterile soil through harmful farming practices. Its supporters included sportsmen, the great fishing clubs, and trophy hunters. Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist. Conservationists established the first national park, Yellowstone, in the U.S. in 1872. They restocked streams, rivers…they argued for the protection of forests as habitat for wildlife and for the creation of wildlife refuges and for the study of breeding patterns and mating calls.”

Donald the Younger appears to be a conservationist. But perhaps, like Rockefeller, he will evolve into an environmentalist. “Environmentalism came to mean leaving the natural landscape alone as much as possible rather than reshaping it to man’s definitions of beauty; to building no roads, planting no alien trees, letting nature take its course insofar as possible. Environmentalism recognized human beings are part of the natural order and that they must learn to live within it rather than seeking to transform it. Environmentalism demanded hundreds of decisions as to what constitutes moral behavior…should one put out only those fires caused by man? But if man were part of nature, should not the fires of man also be left to burn? Environmentalism required more education, more planning, and therefore more interference with traditional lifestyles than conservationists would tolerate.” [Wink, p. 15]

Much of America (or at least the Trump group) wants to return to Ronald Reagan‘s America, which signifies a return to the 1980’s: “the slowest period of growth in the modern history of the nation’s national parks, the appointment of a secretary of the interior [James G. Watt] who opposed any additions to the system, the politicization of the National Park System Advisory Board, and more political appointments deeper into the ranks of the national parks than any other president.” [Wink, p. 94]

Into those perilous environmental waters we go. Nonetheless, Donald the Younger advised his father to appoint Zinke, a Montana Congressman who has a degree in geology and spent twenty-three years as a Navy Seal (not much time under the oceans, I see, instead mostly doing “special ops warfare” duty in Iraq and Kosovo) before becoming Montana’s sole U.S. Representative just two years ago, in 2014.

Zinke was busy in Congress: I count 19 bills that he introduced (none passed). Interestingly, in 2010, Zinke signed a letter calling global warming “a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world” and stating that “the clean energy and climate challenge is America’s new space race.” The letter spoke of “catastrophic” costs and “unprecedented economic consequences” that would result from failing to act on climate change and asked President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (then Speaker of the House) to champion sweeping clean-energy and climate legislation. But that was 2010 and now, now is the alt-right. Now is Trump.

Congressman Zinke “drifted” to the right as he ran for higher office, so we shall see what he brings to an agency of 70,000 employees other than what may be a desire to open more public land to “drill, baby, drill”.  On the other hand, there’s still that glimmer of hope that he is not ridiculously idealogical. He actually withdrew as a delegate to the Republican Presidential nominating convention in July 2016 because he objected to transferring Federal lands to state control. To this I say, “YES, you are right, Congressman. Be careful what you wish for.” But maybe he’s just a one-trick pony: get’s his shorts all wrapped up tight about keeping Federal lands Federal but those same Federal lands are open for sale.

But I digress from Donald the Younger. Let’s hope that he will take after Laurence Rockefeller. After all, the Rockefellers and the Trumps are neighbors on 5th Avenue…

Let’s hope Donald the Younger convinces Donald the Elder and Mr. Zinke to find value, as Rockefeller did, in balance between conservation and environmentalism, in developing resorts that are “eco” and sustainable, in revitalizing urban parks to add refreshing green to an otherwise commercial landscape, in saving fishing jobs long-term by putting critical ocean reefs off limits to fishing in the short-term, by understanding that selling Federal land has a long-term cost, and preserving historic places by investing money in their restoration.

Queen Bee can hope that Interior stays strong, can’t she? And please, Donald The Younger, please don’t shoot the bison.##

Back in Touch After the Summer–and the Election!

Horrors! No posts since Memorial Day. But I’m back, driven by the election to closely follow what may happen to America’s land use and environmental institutions…all of which ultimately have an impact on our everyday lives, gardens, conservation areas, oceans, beaches, flora and fauna. In the politically conservative years to come, it will also be fascinating (hopefully not horrifying) to witness our country’s reaction to climate change.

Each of us is witnessing the intersection of these events and their policy implications. For example, John and I attended a wedding in Charleston, SC, on October 1st. The city’s tour guides spoke about plans to build a 20′ sea wall because the ocean is rising so quickly. Local TV news was broadcasting a weeklong special on the seacoast floods that occurred in 2015. And then five days after we left–the disaster of Hurricane Matthew and its weeks of flooding.

I know I feel so much safer here in Chicago. Even so, our town (Lake Forest) has written a Sustainability Plan. What does it obligate our family to do to pollute less?

I’m sure each of us has strong feelings about spending tax dollars on things like bridges along the outer banks of North Carolina that are continually washing away, or whether the Federal government “overreaches” when it buys land in the west for a National Wildlife Refuge [NWR]. Our family owns a house in Richmond, IL where Hackmatack, one of the nation’s most recent NWR’s, is located. Residents’ feelings run strong, for and against, this Federal designation, but until this year I would not have expected armed militias to stage a takeover. But if it can happen in Oregon, it could happen here. Yikes.

I want to be informed and knowledgeable on these issues.

I intend to highlight some of these stories in a way that allows us to think about what we would do as Administrator of the USEPA or Secretary of Interior, or simply if I want to call a Senator and make a comment about how our financial resources should be deployed on behalf of our natural resources. I hope to lace these stories with the history of our conservation and environmental protection movement. I have many books to recommend to you. My most recent favorite: Rightful Heritage by Douglas Brinkley. Did you know that Franklin Roosevelt’s passion was planting trees across the U.S.? (Hard not to think that planting trees is probably the way to “make America great again.”)

And of course, you and I will continue to share stories of photos of gardens and the gardeners who make them. Happy Thanksgiving! ##

Memorial Day!

It’s a picture perfect, sunny, cloudless Memorial Day, but the weekend started with a huge lightning storm that held all the classic signs of tornado.

The drama of Midwest topography and weather can create powerful visual displays, made all the more dramatic when contrasted with the detail of the flowers on display in the morning after the rainstorm.

Welcome to summer, oh Weedpatch readers…Should be the best ever.#

Oh, Brother, Here We Go…Pray for the Monarchs…the Whales…the Birds…and Us

Did you ever read “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver? It is a wonderful book. In one part, she vividly describes the eerie scene when snow and ice fall on the Monarchs nesting in their West Virginia (as I recall) woods.

But today comes reports that fiction has become fact. Extreme cold hit the Monarchs winter nesting site in Mexico. The pictures are frightening, but let’s have faith that these animals are hardy. But still, it’s bad news. The good news, however, is that both their numbers and the size of their woods increased this year.

But still…We were just in Costa Rica where the guides told us that the whales pretty much don’t migrate that far south anymore…the water up north is nice and warm and there’s no need for them to migrate further south than Baja. Not good for their economy and disturbing that eons of whale behavior is disrupted.

And in Panama, our guide–a birding expert–told us that the birds are already migrating north despite the fact that we (the north) could easily get hit by many more freezing days. That would mean catastrophe for birds coming north too soon.

Our awareness is critical to understanding, and understanding is critical to action. I beseech you to beware the politicians that say that they will destroy the EPA if they become President. Those same people care not for birds, butterflies, and ultimately, life on earth. They have more belief than I do that heaven is better.#