Sea Turtle Campaign

Sea Turtles and Fisheries

As a world leader in the fight against fisheries “bycatch” – the destruction of non-target species – ET has long fought to save sea turtles, which are heavily impacted in many fisheries.

As air-breathing creatures which must remain near the surface, they exist where the most intensive human fishing pressure takes place.


The good news for turtles is that they have durable shells and can hold their breaths quite well. That means that IF released unharmed from a net in a short time, they can go on their way.  However, that rarely happens.

Driftnets and gillnets are simply not that closely watched. A tangled turtle will usually remain in the net for hours or days, and drown. And the small fish caught in these nets lure turtles in. That’s one reason ET has focused effort on getting driftnets out of the seas, and gillnets banned wherever possible.


Much has been made of turtle mortality in tuna seine nets – and some erstwhile conservation groups have suggested that “dolphin safe” standards should be relaxed to protect sea turtles.  This represents a misunderstanding of what’s going on: the main cause of turtle mortality in tuna seiners is the pulling of healthy turtles from the nets to be cooked for crew meals. There’s nothing about the purse-seine process that hurts a sea turtle, and they can be released unharmed during backdown and net-emptying.  Thus, the turtles face the same problem as the dolphins: dishonest observer regimes which allow eastern tropical pacific seining fisheries to hire their friends as “observers”.

Turtle_entangled_in_marine_debrisSea turtles are incredibly ancient, and have survived many past catastrophes. However, they may not survive the 6th great mass extinction, caused by humans in the Anthropocene.  Choked on plastic debris, vulnerable on their nesting beaches, and snared in human fisheries… they are a class of species which can be saved, but only if we keep up the pressure.

Leatherbacks & Green Sea Turtles

In addition to the many other endangered and threatened species it has helped, EarthTrust has been an active advocate for the preservation of sea turtles throughout the world for over 20 years.

ET’s victory in getting pelagic driftnet fleets off the high seas has been called the most successful campaign to save sea turtles at sea.  But they remain in deadly danger from the remaining fisheries, and are hugely vulnerable as humans and human effects threaten their egg-laying beaches.

EarthTrust’s Sea Turtle Protection Project has produced, in concert with the Hawaii-based Honu Project, three videos on sea turtle protection. (Honu Project has been renamed, and may be reached here).

For All Time. Documents the situation at one of the most important nesting sites for leatherback turtles in the world, at Playa Grande on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It received the Bronze Award at the Houston International Film Festival. This video, together with the advocacy activities of the Honu Project and many other parties, helped push the Costa Rican government into declaring Playa Grande a National Park, now called Las Baulas de Guanacaste. 15 minutes.


Fall of the Ancients: Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtles in Crisis. Sea turtles have been swimming the Earth’s oceans since the age of the dinosaur. But today, green sea turtle populations in Hawaii, Florida, and other areas of the world are being devastated by a mysterious disease called fibropapilloma. This disease–which is most often fatal–is at epidemic levels in some areas, and is starting to spread to other species of sea turtles as well. Fall of the Ancients takes a close look at fibropapilloma–its characteristics, research being done by concerned scientists, and potential causes. The work of sea turtle biologist George Balazs (Honolulu Lab, NMFS) is highlighted. Fall of the Ancients also describes poaching and environmental pollution as threats to sea turtles populations, and a novel Hawaii-based turtle breeding and education program. 45 minutes.


Hawaii’s Threatened Sea Turtles. This is an updated version of Fall of the Ancients, produced by EarthTrust and the Honu Project for broadcast on public TV in Hawaii in 1995. 29 minutes.

Hawaii Turtle Conservation

ET volunteers have worked in various parts of the world to help save sea turtles – and to stop the trade in sea turtle products. But some of the most upbeat projects have centered near ET’s Hawaii campaign office.

kids_turtle_cake  turtle cake

Here’s a green sea turtle cake made by students at Kailua Elementary, as part of their outreach efforts to raise funds and awareness to save Hawaii’s endangered Honu. Thanks!