NOAA Galveston facility tests device to save sea turtles from fishing nets

HOUSTON – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service’s Sea Turtle Research Facility in Galveston has been operational since 1978.

Imagine being a tiny little sea turtle ready to grow into a big one, swimming through the ocean, and getting caught in a commercial fishing net meant for tiny shrimp.

« Those troughs drag for several hours. Just like anyone if you start to panic, you start using up all your oxygen, it doesn’t take very long for you to inhale water and drown, so they had sea turtles dying by tens of thousands, » research fishery biologist Lindsey Howell said.

Howell said there has been a device created to try to keep that from happening. It’s called a Turtle Excluder Device.

« The very first thing they are going to interact with is the Turtle Excluder Device. So a sea turtle is going to hit these bars and be excluded out, » Howell said.

But is that the best the device can be? That’s where the NOAA Fisheries Sea Turtle Research Facility comes in.

From the tiny to the titanic, these more than 300 loggerhead sea turtles spend the first three years of their lives at their home here in Galveston to be studied.

« The day they hatch out is when we go and we collect them, and we drive them back here to our facility, » Howell said.

From the time they are hatched in Florida to the time they are released back from the Sunshine State, the turtles are used to make improvements on that device.

« So we use our turtles to test that device and they are not harmed during this process, » Howell said.

She said there are many aspects they can improve.

« You can change the angle, the bar spacing, the length. We work at changing the flaps, the weight of the thread, the mesh size, » Howell said.

The facility knows they offer a unique look into the life of a rare reptile, so they allow others to see what they see on a daily basis.

« We just like to educate the public about sea turtles. A lot of people that live in the area have no idea that this facility is here, » Howell said.

And it’s something that turtle tourists say is worth the visit.

« I thought it was fabulous and so educational, and so informative, » Kathy Lindsey said.

« The people that are doing the tour are very well-versed on the animals themselves, and it’s been very informative to me, » Lloyd Lindsey said.