Mexico Risks U.S. Trade Embargo After Deaths of 700+ Endangered Sea Turtles
Mexico faces the threat of a trade embargo from the U.S. for failing to protect endangered North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles from getting entangled in fishing gear off the Baja California’s Gulf of Ulloa. Last week state government officials in Mexico reported that 705 loggerheads have stranded dead along a 30-mile shoreline so far this year, most during the summer fishing season, including 30 dead turtles in a single day. That’s more turtles than normally wash ashore annually along the U.S. coast from Texas to the Carolinas. Long-term scientific studies show that the leading cause of these deaths is preventable drowning in fishing gear; yet Mexican officials have claimed that only one percent of the reported turtle deaths were caused by bycatch.
“Loggerhead sea turtles are dying by the thousands along the Mexico coast,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States can ban the import of fish and other wildlife products from nations that fail to protect imperiled species, and this is a clear case where such strong action is necessary.”
The Pelly Amendment gives the U.S. the authority to embargo fish and other wildlife products from countries that violate wildlife-protection treaties, including the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. A separate law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, authorizes sanctions against countries that allow excessive bycatch of U.S.-protected species, like loggerhead sea turtles.
Loggerhead mortality rates in the Gulf of Ulloa, as reported by the Mexican government as well as numerous scientific studies over the past decade, are among the highest documented in the world.
“Based on two decades of collaborative research we concluded that the main cause of these deaths is bycatch in fishing nets,” said Wallace 'J.' Nichols, Ph.D., a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences. “Even the Mexican government’s own scientists have pointed to bycatch.”
The Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources, the Mexican National Commission for Protected Areas, and the Mexican National Institute of Fisheries, all Mexican government agencies, have acknowledged research that identifies bycatch as the main cause. Studies conducted at the Gulf of Ulloa, backed by research in the U.S., show that turtles washed ashore represent a small fraction of the thousands killed.
“The Mexican government has ignored their own science and misrepresented the cause of turtle deaths in an attempt to appease the fishing industry and mislead the U.S. government,” said Juan Carlos Cantu, program director of Defenders of Wildlife Mexico. “In the announcement of the latest loggerhead mortality figures they claimed that a survey of the carcasses showed that only one percent of deaths were caused by bycatch. When turtles drown in gillnets, however, there is almost never any physical proof that can be gathered short of performing an autopsy.”
The Mexican state government put forth the purportedly low bycatch rate without performing the procedures necessary to support its claim.
“Proven sustainable fishing solutions can solve the high loggerhead mortality rate, but Mexico has shown an insufficient willingness to act,” said Alejandro Olivera of the Baja California Sur-based Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (CEMDA). “It is in their interest to do so before this becomes an international crisis. It would be tragic for this situation to lead to an embargo when we have world-class science and viable solutions available.”
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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