NOAA cuts program aimed to save Gulf sea turtles

The federal government is shutting down a program that helped save Gulf sea turtles.

HOUSTON - A long-running federal research program aimed at saving endangered Gulf sea turtles has been cut for the first time in its 40-year history.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric administration gave sparse details concerning the change at its Galveston laboratory.

The program aimed at helping curb the threats posed by shrimpers trawls examined turtle exclusion devices annually.

The devices, more commonly known as “TEDs,” were created to curb the deaths of sea turtles that were unintentionally caught by trawls and drowned.

The specifications of the devices are many times changed following the research because the size of the turtles can fluctuate from season-to-season.

The NOAA program at its Galveston laboratory gathered hatchling loggerhead turtles from Florida, brought them to Galveston for testing on the market’s current TEDs to ensure their effectiveness, and would then release the turtles once they were grown.

“We completed the two years of turtle excluder device (TED) testing we were committed to for this research project,” said NOAA spokeswoman Allison Garrett in an e-mailed statement. “We tested and certified the current TED design. This project is now complete and we do not plan to harvest turtle hatchlings this year.”

Garret did not respond to further questions and clarification regarding the permanency of the cut and what this might spell for NOAA’s entire Galveston laboratory.

Galveston laboratory employees would not comment on-the-record regarding the cut to the program.

The TED testing program had been one of the laboratory’s greatest responsibilities for the past four decades.

The Kemps Ridley sea turtle had been decimated to endangerment levels in the last century.

TEDs have been required on most shrimp trawls since 1989.

Shrimpers have long been opposed to the mandated use of TEDs as they can reduce the sizes of their catch and require longer trawls.

“You know a turtle's got more rights than a human now,” said shrimper Billy George. “It's a hassle, but it's something you've got to deal with. You can't afford not to trawl them, the fines are too expensive.”

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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