TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Each summer time, 1000’s of beginner scallopers flock to the nice and cozy coastal waters of Florida’s Crystal River area, anchor their boats and reap the scrumptious bounty of the state’s largest leisure bay scallop fishery.
For these seasonal anglers, the toothsome morsels are nicely well worth the two- or three-meter dive. However new analysis from scientists at Florida State College means that scallop harvesting — and leisure fishing typically — could come at a price for the susceptible sea turtles that reside and forage in these shallow seas.
“We discovered that in harvest season within the Crystal River leisure scallop fisheries, native sea turtle conduct modified in vital methods,” stated examine co-author Mariana Fuentes, an assistant professor within the Division of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. “We have to proceed this work to measure how extreme these adjustments may be.”
Their analysis was revealed this month within the journal Oryx.
The identical agreeable situations that make the northeastern Gulf of Mexico so appropriate for scallop harvesting — temperate waters and luxurious beds of seagrass — additionally make the realm a mannequin habitat for inexperienced, Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead sea turtles. That made the Crystal River area the proper pure experiment for involved researchers.
“Our group strives to offer efficient administration choices to scale back space-use conflicts between wildlife and human actions,” Fuentes stated. “It was a pure step to analyze the potential implications of those interactions and methods to mitigate impacts.”
To evaluate the results of the seasonal inflow of leisure harvesters, the researchers got down to consider how marine turtle distribution and conduct may change in response to elevated boating exercise. Utilizing a complicated satellite tv for pc monitoring gadget, researchers tagged and monitored a number of the three sea turtle species widespread to the realm.
They discovered that when boats appeared, the turtles turned tail. The arrival of harvest season noticed turtle hotspots shift away from the congregated scalloping vessels and nearer to the coast.
“These human-driven shifts within the distribution of turtles could imply they’re spending much less time in areas which are prone to be of higher high quality, which might in flip have an effect on their dietary consumption and vitality budgets,” stated examine lead writer Natalie Wildermann, a postdoctoral researcher at FSU.
When pressured to share restricted house with fleets of scallop harvesters, Wildermann stated, the turtles may have to expend larger effort to find the meals they want. Crowded waters might additionally breed elevated competitors amongst particular person turtles for scarce sources.
After which there’s the fundamental environmental results of the scalloper flotillas.
“The 1000’s of vessels — and their oil leaks and chemical substances — might have a substantial influence on the general water and seagrass habitat within the area,” Wildermann stated.
Whereas a small navy of leisure fishing boats may not be the perfect neighbor for sea turtle communities, researchers stress that steps may be taken to reduce each direct and oblique ecological injury.
Decreasing the density of harvesters might enable turtles the room emigrate between better-suited habitats with out being disrupted, and recording turtle sightings on GPS or smartphones might assist boaters keep away from areas with larger turtle exercise. Extra inflexible velocity limits in areas populated by turtles are additionally advisable, researchers stated, because the animals aren’t sometimes nimble sufficient to keep away from collisions with vessels touring greater than 2.2 knots (2.5 miles per hour).
The trick, stated Wildermann, is to craft insurance policies that defend marine life with out inflicting undue burden to well-meaning scallop harvesters.
“We would wish to work with scallopers and managers to discover a stability between guaranteeing that scallopers can nonetheless benefit from the leisure actions, whereas minimizing the disturbance to marine turtles,” she stated.
Former FSU analysis assistant Christian Gredzens and Christopher Sasso from the Nationwide Marine Fisheries Service additionally contributed to the examine. The analysis was funded by the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate grant and the Nationwide Marine Fisheries Service.
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