U.N. Resolution May Help Save Turtles

December 2, 2005

A resolution on sustainable fisheries approved thisweek by the U.N. General Assembly could help rescuethe leatherback turtle from near extinction, environmentalistsannounced.Two articles in the resolution that call for restrictionson fishing in areas of high activity for sea turtles constitutea first step toward preserving the species, accordingto Costa Rica’s Sea Turtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA).Although the United Nations has yet to respond to aninitiative for a moratorium on pelagic long-lining – fishingwith nets several nautical miles long – PRETOMAconsidersapproval of the resolution an important notice to theworld, the organization’s president Randall Arauz told The Tico Times.Various species of sea turtles, includingthe leatherback, often become tangled inlong-lines, which, in the Pacific Ocean, killapproximately 40,000 marine turtles eachyear, scientists say (TT, March 4).PRETOMA advocated a moratoriumon long-line fishing in the Pacific beforethe United Nations this year; Arauz saidthey “bombarded” the office of CostaRican U.N. Ambassador Bruno Stagnowith requests that he plead for the moratorium.PRETOMA also organized a petitionsigned by 25,000 Costa Ricans andaddressed to Stagno, asking that CostaRica lead the way during discussions of theresolution at the General Assembly (TT,Nov. 18), but without effect.At the meetings held Monday andTuesday, Costa Rican representatives didnot contribute to the discussion.“It seemed strange to us that they didnot speak,” Arauz said. “Costa Rica hasalways led with a progressive position atthe U.N. (in environmental issues).”Negotiations by Costa Rican representativesbefore the United Nations in Juneresulted in the inclusion of the articles callingfor protection of sea turtles, accordingto the conservation group.THE new resolution requests applicationof measures outlined by the Food andAgriculture Organization of the UnitedNations (FAO) that call for closure of fishingareas of elevated turtle activity in internationalwaters, according to Arauz.He explained it could take years beforethese measures are implemented, however,because they require diplomatic work.“Countries need to define how theywill accomplish this (closure of fishingareas) – and which countries will providefunds for it,” he said.A moratorium on pelagic long-linefishing in the Pacific would be a speedieralternative to save the leatherback, accordingto Arauz.Amovement asking the United Nationsto pass the moratorium began in 2002,when U.S. children dressed in sea-turtlecostumes delivered a petition to the U.N.signed by thousands of citizens, 1,007 scientistsfrom 97 countries and 281 non-governmentalorganizations from 64 countriesurging it to implement the moratorium,according to a statement from the U.S.-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project.However, for the United Nations to discussthe moratorium, one member couuntryneeds to introduce the topic, somethingthat has not happened yet.Last year, 4,000-5,000 scientists signeda similar petition, according to Arauz.MORE than 1,000 scientists aroundthe world agree that the leatherback coulddisappear within the next five to 15 years ifimmediate action isn’t taken to reduce thedangers that threaten it.Scientists estimate that the number ofadult female nesting leatherbacks hasdiminished by 99% in the past 25 years,with as few as 1,000 remaining, accordingto a PRETOMA statement.Costa Rica boasts the most importantleatherback nesting ground in theAmericas, located at Playa Grande, thelargest beach in the Las Baulas NationalMarine Park in the northwestern provinceof Guanacaste.However, last season, only 52 femalesnested in Playa Grande, an alarming dropfrom the almost 1,400 turtles that nestedthere 15 years ago, according to PRETOMA.Commercial Costa Rican fishermenwho practice pelagic long-lining use fishinglines of up to 800 hooks that can extend15-20 miles during their two-week fishingexpeditions.Around the world, international fleetsfrom Asia, Spain and Norway drag lineswith up to 5,000 hooks that extend morethan 100 miles, posing an even largerthreat to turtles and other species.Often, the sea animals become tangledor caught on the lines, and die when fishermenrip the hooks from their mouths.According to Arauz, PRETOMA willcontinue asking for a long-lining moratoriumnext year.

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