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Study by J. Nichols '89 Finds Small Fishing Operations Pose Biggest Danger to "Seriously Threatened" Sea Turtles

October 17, 2007

J Nichols Turtle Kiss.jpgOctober 17, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - A ten year study, co-authored by Wallace J. Nichols and released today, "reveals that small-scale fishing operations are a greater threat to the survival of north Pacific loggerhead sea turtles than large industrial fishing operations. The species is seriously threatened." The peer-reviewed research was conducted by Dr. Nichols, senior scientist at the Ocean Conservancy and 1989 graduate of DePauw University, and University of California-Santa Cruz researcher Hoyt Peckham. It was published today in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

A summary of the study explains, "North PacificJ Nichols 89 2007 Beach.jpg loggerhead sea turtles travel more than 7,000 miles from Japan via Hawaii to feed and grow to maturity in Baja California Sur, Mexico, spending up to 30 years there before returning to Japan to breed. The number of nesting females in Japan has declined by 50 to 80 percent over the past 10 years. Young loggerheads spend 70 percent of their time in areas that are popular small-scale fishing locations. Small-scale fishing operations threaten the survival of these turtles because the turtles are inadvertently caught in gillnets set on the ocean bottom and long fishing lines with many hooks that can easily ensnare loggerhead sea turtles."

Nichols, who appears in Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour, states, “Many small-scale fishing operations off the coast of Baja California, Mexico overlap with high concentrations of loggerhead turtles. The combination of the indiscriminate gillnets and long-line fishing gear and the density of loggerhead turtles results in a deadly situation for the turtles. Local efforts to educate fishermen and remove dangerous fishing gear from the water are wallace j nichols dd2007.jpgessential to protecting this endangered species that relies on the food-rich waters in Baja California, Mexico for survival.”

Read more here, and access the complete study by clicking here. An NPR report today can be found here.

Nichols, who is known by his middle initial "J.," majored in biology at DePauw and is also a research associate for San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences. He returned to his alma mater October 5 for DePauw Discourse 2007: Sustainability and Global Citizenship, where he discussed his pioneering work with sea turtles and his efforts to educate commercial fishermen and villagers on the endangered status of sea turtles and the conservation efforts they can take to save the species. An account of his presentation, including video and audio clips, can be found in this previous story.

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