Sea turtle killed by fishing net in Mexico
PUERTO ANGEL, Mexico- A large dark object floated out at sea near the beach of Puerto Angel. What is it? I watched as it bobbed in the waves, ever moving closer to the shore. When it was around ten meters out, it became apparent that it was a sea turtle. A large, dead one.
The rotund green carcass came ever closer to the beach with each gyration of the waves, until at last it stuck to the sand, revealing itself to full view. I walked over to it with my toddler daughter, we both knelled down to check it out. The sea turtle was around two and a half feet long, over a foot thick, the skin on its face was peeling off. It stank.
After admiring the size of this magnificent giant and pondering the decades of time it had roamed the seas, the question of how it died came to mind. I desired to find out.
There were no visible signs of what could have caused this sea turtle to die — there were no open wounds, no pieces missing from it, no physical stress signs, it seemed as if it was a completely in tact turtle in almost every way, but it was dead. I asked a fisherman what had happen.
“It got caught in a net,” he spoke without hesitation and wrapped his hands around his neck for effect.
This mammoth sea turtle met its end choking in a fishing net.
35,000 sea turtles a year are estimated to be killed as a result of human activity in Mexico — some accidentally in fishing nets or from debris cast into the ocean and some from intentional harvest: Sea turtle skin is much sought after for making boots, their shells are desired as exotic decorations, and their meat was once a staple meal for the people on the coasts of Mexico.
The sea turtle also does not seem to have very strong defensive instincts once mature. It is a relatively large animal once they reach adult size, and few things in the sea eat them. Hence, these turtles are easy picking for people wanting to snag them. A few days ago I watched a foreign tourist swim right up to one — if his intentions were different he could have easily snagged it.
Up until 1990, one of the main industries of the fishermen of Puerto Angel was selling the skins of sea turtles. This activity is now illegal, and the fishermen have moved on to focusing their catch elsewhere, but sea turtles do continue to meet residual death due to the local fishing industry.
But people need to fish, and I cannot demonize the local fisherman whose aim is is to bring in a subsistence level catch each day. Fishing is an activity primarily partaken in by the lower classes of coastal Mexico — these guys are going out each morning in small boats with outboard motors and fishing with hand thrown nets — and it seems to be an endangered lifestyle in and of itself. The accidental death of the occasional sea turtle seems to be an unfortunate aspect of many types of fishing, but I believe strongly that the turtles killed residually by the activities of these local fishermen is just the tip of the iceberg of problems facing these ancient sea reptiles.