Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles that inhabit tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world. Because of their biological characteristics and migration patterns, sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to incidental capture (also known as bycatch). In the United States, all sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries carries out domestic and international conservation activities for sea turtles in the marine environment.
As sea turtles are highly migratory and therefore range across ocean basins, it is critical for the United States to work with other countries to promote sea turtle conservation internationally. Given NOAA Fisheries’ jurisdiction in the marine environment, a significant portion of our work is focused on mitigating sea turtle bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, the United States worked to implement several actions to improve the international conservation of sea turtles. These actions included:
Implementing shrimp-turtle legislation (Sec 609, PL 101.162)
Negotiating and ratifying the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles
Negotiating and ratifying the Indian Ocean Southeast Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.
Negotiating and developing the FAO “Guidelines to Reduce Sea Turtle Mortality in Fishing Operations”. Adopted in 2004, these guidelines are the global standard for avoiding interactions between sea turtles and fishing operations in international waters and providing for the safe release of sea turtles accidentally caught in fishing gear.
Conducting research on fishing gear modifications to reduce sea turtle interactions and mortality. Based on this research, NOAA Fisheries developed collaborative projects with countries around the world to test turtle excluder devices, modified gillnets, circle hooks in longlines and buoy gear.
More information about these efforts can be found in the biennial report to Congress on the international provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act.
In addition to working bilaterally with other countries, NOAA Fisheries Service has worked through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to adopt sea turtle resolutions that require implementation of the FAO guidelines, increased observer coverage, increased data reporting, and changes in fishing gear and practices.