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Groups Move to Stop Sea Turtle Deaths

Groups Move to Stop Sea Turtle Deaths

Center for Biological Diversity

Conservation groups asked a federal court in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) accountable for its role in the shrimp trawl-related deaths of endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2011 alone, an extraordinary number of sea turtles—more than 1,400—have washed ashore dead or injured in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean. The NMFS has linked these strandings to drowning in shrimp fishing nets. Despite this rise in sea turtle strandings and the devastating impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the NMFS has not fulfilled its duty to protect these imperiled animals from harm.

“Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are still reeling from the impacts of last year’s oil spill, and they simply can’t withstand the chronic threat of drowning in shrimp nets,” said Jacyln Lopez, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The government’s own data show that record numbers of sea turtles have perished in the Gulf of Mexico this year, yet the fisheries service has not taken protective measures to prevent sea turtles from dying in the shrimp-trawl fishery.”

Shrimp trawling has for many decades been the primary threat to sea turtle survival in the U.S., and turtles in the Gulf of Mexico may be more vulnerable now to drowning in shrimp nets as a result of the BP spill and cleanup efforts. The shrimp trawl fishery incidentally captures and kills thousands of threatened and endangered sea turtles each year. Turtle excluder devices can help prevent turtles from drowning in the nets, but not all shrimpers are required to use them and still others simply don’t comply with existing regulations.

“The fisheries service is allowing this fishery to continue without requiring protections it knows can save turtles,” said Chris Pincetich of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Turtle excluder devices should be required now for all shrimpers.”

The NMFS admitted in August 2010 that it needed to reassess the impact of the shrimp fishery on sea turtles in light of the dramatic increase in strandings, but it still has not finished that analysis. Then, following 379 sea turtle strandings—by government estimates only 5 to 6 percent of actual mortality—along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in early 2011, the NMFS temporarily improved enforcement and announced that it would explore new rules to reduce sea turtle mortality. Meanwhile shrimp fishing continues as usual. The NMFS has denied requests from the conservation groups for emergency measures to reduce the harm to sea turtles.

“The fisheries service has admitted that increased turtle protections in the shrimp fishery are needed,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s time to translate that need for action into real protections for these animals.”

“Reducing sea turtle deaths from fisheries is key to preventing extinction,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy at the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that shrimping plus noncompliance and minimal enforcement equals a lot of dead turtles. By failing to uphold the law, the fisheries service is undermining decades of conservation and squandering millions of private and public dollars.”

The Endangered Species Act requires the NMFS to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species and to respond to evidence of new threats to their survival. Today’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to protect sea turtles in the wake of a huge increase in strandings and seeks to establish protections for the turtles, including increased enforcement and observer coverage to reduce turtle deaths from shrimp trawls, closure of sensitive areas to shrimp trawling, and broader requirements for shrimp boats to use turtle-excluder devices to allow turtles to escape drowning in all types of trawl gear.

Conservation groups filing the suit include the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Defenders of Wildlife, and Sea Turtle Conservancy.

For more information, click here.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 55,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

Sea Turtle Conservancy works to ensure the survival of sea turtles within the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific through research, education, training, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend. www.conserveturtles.org

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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