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Turtle mortality highlights local effort to reduce blast fishing

July 26, 2012

Photo taken from elsalvador.com by C. Amaya.

Yesterday, July 25, two adult female Hawksbill turtles were found dead in the Bay of Jiquilisco. According to the fishermen, rangers, and turtle experts at the scene, the first turtle was probably trapped inside a fishing net and drowned. When the fishermen discovered she was caught in the net, she was pulled up and cut open to look for eggs, indicated by knife marks on her underside. However, more than likely they found nothing, as she had nested and been tagged about a week prior to her death.

The story of the second turtle is an even more unfortunate example of what is happening in the Bay of Jiquilisco. This turtle, named Manglita, had been a part of the Hawksbill Turtle Festival in La Pirraya, just last week (July 18th). She had been marked with a satellite transmitter and released into the Bay as one of the final events of the festival. Probably just a few days after her release, she was killed by blast fishermen. While the bomb did not go off directly above her, the impact from an estimated distance of 5-7 meters was enough to kill her. She was found washed up on a beach about 3-4 days after death and still showed signs of the bomb- big marks on her shell, and an incredibly soft, almost gelatinous bruise on her underside. When she was found, community members, hoping to be compensated for their find, removed the transmitter and tags. During the process, the transmitter was broken beyond repair.

Of 1,000 sea turtles born, only 1 survives to the age of reproduction.  According to research collected by members of the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO), there are roughly 500 adult Hawksbill known to frequent to entire Eastern Pacific coast from Mexico to Ecuador.  These two deaths are an extreme blow on the population of Hawksbill turtles in the Bay of Jiquilisco, one of the most important sites for these endangered turtles.  This tragedy highlights the negative impact that blast fishing continues to have in the region,

Yesterday’s tragedy highlights that blast fishing presents a clear and present danger in the Bay of Jiquilisco—to sea turtles, fishers themselves and their future livelihood in the fishery. Through funding from sources like the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) EcoViva and the Mangrove Association work closely with community members, local law enforcement, and government authorities to understand and  reduce blast fishing.  To date, this has included coordinated patrols of the Bay, community outreach, and assistance to local fishing cooperatives who switch from blasting to ‘sustainable’ fishing practices.   These actions go hand-in-hand with support of locally operated sea turtle hatcheries that restore dwindling populations, and educate local communities about sea turtle conservation.  Since 2009, EcoViva has worked directly with dozens of fishers to dissuade blast fishing, and many have become outspoken local voices against this harmful practice.

Now more than ever, it is important  that the conservation and development community come together to support these local efforts in the Bay of Jiquilisco, and the collaboration between El Salvador’s environmental authorities and local community leadership.

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