Saving more sea turtles: New, bigger nets could help with rescues
Pensacola News Journal
The rescues of two sea turtles within the last month at the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier might lead to a new and improved device to bring the animals to land after they get hooked on a fisherman’s line.
The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center is working to secure a patent for a new and bigger net to make it easier for pier staff to lift larger sea turtles onto the pier after they’re caught.
Cathy Holmes, founder of the center, said the organization is working with Navarre resident Ralph Agnew on the larger and bulkier net, which has a wider opening that will more easily slide under a sea turtle during a rescue.
More: Juvenile green sea turtle rescued at Navarre Pier after hooks were embedded in his body
The center and Agnew submitted paperwork to the U.S. Patent Office on Wednesday for the net, which was designed by Agnew. It will be employed when working with larger sea turtles — of all different kinds — that can weigh up to hundreds of pounds.
“It’s a really neat design,” Holmes said. “Ralph did an amazing job putting it together.”
Protocol at the pier is that a fisherman who hooks a sea turtle should notify an attendant with the pier management group Growing Santa Rosa Enterprises. The attendants get in touch with the sea turtle conservation center and then get the turtle out of the water and onto the pier.
“We just get them up with as little stress as possible, and then they take over,” said GSRE managing partner Jonathan Cole. “It works very well. Most of the maneuvering happens from the fishing pier and the bigger ones are trickier.”
Holmes said the procedure, known as the “Responsible Pier Initiative,” was put in place years ago by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. The center has the initiative agreement in place with piers in Florida, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Puerto Rico, according to its website.
More: Seven sea turtles hooked at Navarre Beach returned to Gulf of Mexico
The current net used by pier attendants to retrieve sea turtles is hoop-shaped with a diameter of about 48 inches, and it works well for smaller sea turtles, Holmes said.
But, she said, there’s a need for a better device to get bigger sea turtles, such as the approximately 112-pound loggerhead caught July 6. That turtle is one of two that the center has used in test runs of the larger net.
Meeko, as the likely female sea turtle has been named, required nine people to get her onto the pier when she was hooked by a fishing line for the third time and then transported to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach for treatment.
Graham Northup, the Gulfarium’s curator of fish and reptiles, said Thursday afternoon Meeko was “in bad trouble,” with the latest incident. Northup said X-rays showed the turtle had more than 12 fishing hooks internally and gear was wrapped around both front flippers.
Northup said Meeko underwent surgery on Wednesday to remove the hooks. Blood flow was restored to the front flippers and the sea turtle has already been back in the water at the Gulfarium. Northup said the staff is optimistic Meeko will make a full recovery, and she’s expected to remain at the facility for at least a month.
A Kemp’s Ridley was also rescued with the net and arrived at Gulfarium on July 10, after suffering external injuries to its left front flipper. Northup said the turtle was “an easy case” and should do well.
Meeko is one of more than 60 sea turtles transported to Gulfarium this year after being rescued from areas along the coast from Alabama to Destin, Northup said.
More: First sea turtle nest of season spotted at Gulf Islands National Seashore
Holmes said she has a theory that the proliferation of sea turtles in the area of the Navarre Beach Pier is due to the presence of the nearby artificial reef system that is attracting the animals.
The artificial reef, plus the increase of people participating in recreational fishing in the same area adds up to more sea turtles — and more are bound to get hooked.
Northup said the numbers indicate to him “a good indication of a growing population.”
“Hopefully it’s a sign that we’re seeing more around the coast and that they’re being brought in is a good sign that the population is growing,” Northup said.
Anne Delaney can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8522.