Layman's Report: project results
6 years of work summarized into a short document
In the Mediterranean Sea, the regular presence of two of the seven existing species of sea turtles is reported: the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is more rare while for the other three species (Lepidochelys olivacea, Lepidochelys kempii, Eretmochelys imbricate) only sporadic sightings are reported.
The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), is the most common species of sea turtle in the Mediterranean and is the only one that usually reproduces along the Italian coasts, usually frequenting recurring nesting sites. In recent years, thanks to TARTALIFE project it has been verified that even more northern beaches than traditional sites are nested.
In the last ten years, the conservation of Caretta caretta, a priority species included in the Habitat Directive and protected by numerous international conventions, has taken on a strategic aspect for the Mediterranean basin, where professional fishing seems to represent the main threat to the survival of the species. Other factors of risk are the modification of the nesting sites, the tourist presence, which often discourages nesting attempts, the impacts with boats, and ingestion of anthropogenic material that is often detected to be fatal (more than 50% of turtles rescued in the TARTALIFE recovery centers ejected anthropogenic residues after a few days of hospitalization).
At the beginning of the project, knowledge about the interaction of sea turtles with different fishing gears in the different Italian seas was still scarce and also the knowledge on the possible mitigation measures of by-catches had gaps. In addition, the Mediterranean Sea is characterized by a high multispecificity of commercial catches and an extreme diversification of fishing gears. All this makes it very difficult to implement mitigation measures and hinder the decline of turtle populations in the Mediterranean. Recent estimates suggest that more than 130,000 sea turtles are caught by accidental fishing in the Mediterranean every year, with the possibility of more than 30-40,000 deaths. Italy is a bycatch hot-spot and in our seas TARTALIFE has estimated more than 40,000 capture events with likely 10,000 deaths each year. These catch data, the turtle catches reported by fishermen and the increasing number of turtles treated in the Rescue Centres along the Italian coast, prove the necessity to stem this phenomenon, which leads to the injuring or killing of many individuals and hinders the conservation of the species, in worrying decline in the Mediterranean. For this reason, the conservation of the species and the ecosystem services related cannot be disregarded by the experience of fishermen, communication and interaction with them and by the research activity to study mitigation measures to be tested and spread in the different fishing activities.
The TARTALIFE project, carried out in the 15 Italian regions facing the sea, was launched in this complicated framework and aimed at reducing the mortality of the sea turtle Caretta caretta induced by fishing activities and thus contribute to the conservation of the species in the Mediterranean. The project was funded by the European Union through the LIFE + NATURA 2012 fund and co-financed by the Marche Region and supported by the ministry of agricultural food and forestry policies and tourism - General Fisheries Directorate (MIPAAFT).
To the project was coordinated by the CNR-IRBIM of Ancona. The project partners were: Fondazione Cetacea, Legambiente, Consorzio UNIMAR, Asinara National Park, Marine protected area "Isole Egadi", Marine protected area "Isole Pelagie", Provincia di Agrigento.
TARTALIFE project aimed at contributing to the reduction of sea turtle mortality in professional fishing activities, through a multidisciplinary approach which included, first of all, the introduction and diffusion in the Italian fishing fleet of fishing gears and devices capable to significantly reduce accidental catches (devices globally known as Bycatch Reducing Devices) and through an intense action of raising public awareness and training of workers in the fishing sector and operators of turtles’ recovery centers. Therefore, TARTALIFE has pursued the reduction of the mortality of Caretta caretta induced by professional fishing activities through two main specific objectives:
- reduction of incidental catches (bycatch) by technical modifications of the gears in use (BRDs)
- the reduction of post-capture mortality, through:
- the training of fishermen on the good practices to be applied on board in case of accidental capture;
- the strengthening of rescue centers/ first aid with new and modern equipment;
- the training of the rescue center’s staff;
- the training of the general public and students
Considering the complexity of the problem, fishermen were the main actors of the project and from an initial mistrust there was a real collaboration. Thanks to TARTALIFE, also the public's perception of fishermen has changed, and many of them are now actively collaborating on the conservation of the species, delivering to the rescue centers the turtles accidentally caught, adopting the good practices developed in the project and adopting mitigation measures.