Did Your Tuna Sandwich Kill a Sea Turtle?

The remote island atolls of St François and Farquhar are part of the Alphonse and Farquhar outer island groups in the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Like most of the Seychelles, these atolls are important nesting sites for sea birds and sea turtles, and are surrounded by some of the world's healthiest and most intact coral reefs. There is a small settlement on Farquhar atoll, but St François has no human inhabitants.


In my mind, coral atolls like these have embodied a tropical paradise, untouched by human hand. How wrong could I be? When I went to the Seychelles last year, I discovered that even in these remote places the tuna industry is causing trouble.

Yep, it's those FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices ) again, although I know a few less flattering acronyms to describe them! Those floating rafts of junk, dangling ropes and netting that entangle turtles and sharks, are ending up beached and entangled all over the Seychelles, despite the sophisticated tracking buoys they usually have attached.

The Island Conservation Society (ICS) has conservation centres on five islands in the Seychelles, and its scientists and rangers have been removing lost or abandoned FADs from their islands for years. In 2011 they started documenting the problem and in 2015, with funding from Greenpeace, were able to do systematic surveys in the region, build a database, and report the findings.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"604361","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"450","style":"width: 600px; height: 450px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"600"}}]]

But, back to the atolls. The ICS surveyed St François and Farquhar atolls and found 48 FADs entangled or beached on each one. That's 96 FADs on just two atolls. With the addition of other FADs found since 2011, the total number of beached or entangled FADs is 210. Over a third of the FADs they found were attached to the reef because the netting and ropes beneath the FADs had become caught on coral. Five of them had sea turtles trapped in their nets, sadly only one was found alive in time to be rescued. FADs washed up on beaches are also a danger to nesting sea turtles.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"604362","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"450","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"600"}}]]

The ICS removes FADs whenever they can, but it can be difficult and dangerous, and the tides and weather must be just right. Then they have to dispose of the rubbish Рmost of the FADs they found were made from synthetic materials, with few biodegradable parts. Rubbish must be transported to the main island of Mah̩ for appropriate disposal, so it is a costly business cleaning up FADs.

Three quarters of the FADs found were traced back to Spanish owned vessels, registered in Spain or the Seychelles. This is no surprise, as Spain's addiction to FADs is well known. The Spanish purse seine fleet uses more FADs than any other fleet, and now takes 83% of its Indian Ocean tuna catch around FADs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: FADs drive me crazy. They're a symptom of an out-of-control tuna fishery. I'd love to see FADs banned entirely, but at the very least we have to get their use under tight control. We need science-based limits on the number of FADs allowed in each ocean and limits for each vessel. FAD use must be reported alongside tuna catches. We need to know how many are released and collected, and where, and if any of them are lost. And every FAD must be labelled, so the companies who use and lose them can pay for the clean-up.

Scientist Sam Balderson from ICS was in Portugal last week presenting the findings of his research to a meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). For their work to continue, ICS needs more funding, and Sam wants to know: will the tuna industry take responsibility and cough up for the FAD clean-up?

Considering that IOTC just set 'limits' on FADs that will actually allow a massive increase in their use, I'm not holding my breath.

[This article is reprinted with permission from Greenpeace. All images are courtesy of the Island Conservation Society.]

RELATED STORIES

Scuba Divers’ Haunting Photos Show Devastating Impact of Ocean Trash on Marine Life

The Unseen Extinction Wiping Out the World's Wildlife

There Are Half as Many Fish in the World's Oceans as There Were in 1970

There’s a One-in-Four Chance the Fish You Just Ordered Contains Plastic

Are You a Victim of Fish Fraud? New Program Will Make It Easier to Check

#story_page_ below_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.