We’re back with more sea turtle-saving stories from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!
Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.
From Wednesday through Friday, Houston Zoo staff got aboard NOAA’s boat, the Caretta, and what a beautiful three days it was! We arrived at NOAA’s Panama City, Florida site each day at 6 a.m. and immediately began preparing the turtles and the boats for the days’ adventures. This work included feeding those turtles that had already swum through the TED a delicious breakfast of squid and crating other turtles that would swim through an excluder device that day. Once everyone arrived to the site, we boarded the boat and headed out for a short 12-hour day on the water.
So, how does it work? TED testing requires three different boats: the main boat where the sea turtles are released into the ocean, the dive boat where the three divers launch, and the catch boat where staff retrieve the sea turtles from the water after they’ve journeyed through the TED. We were able to experience each boat throughout the day, all the while hearing stories from all of the NOAA staff and learning why TEDs are so important to protect these threatened and endangered sea turtles.
In order for a TED to be approved and certified, a sea turtle must be able to make its way safely through the net in five minutes or less. Three divers are underwater with the shrimp net to document the turtle’s journey through the water and to ensure the turtle gets back on the boat. They take very detailed notes and video so the team can evaluate the turtles’ performances that day and whether or not they need to adjust the TED design.
After all of the turtle excluder devices have been tested, the Caretta returns back to its home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the loggerhead sea turtles are released back into the ocean.
Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED-testing and how YOU can help save sea turtles in the wild!