Participants of Vineyard Fishing Derby Asked to Keep Eyes Open for Sea Turtles

MARTHA’S VINEYARD – With the Martha’s Vineyard Fishing Derby in full swing until October 13, Mass Audubon and derby organizers are asking anglers to watch out and steer clear of sea turtles.

“We’re urging boaters to be very vigilant to watch ahead of their boats for leatherbacks. We try, through our website, to post photos of what the turtles might look like from their boat,” said Karen Dourdeville, a Sea Turtle Research Associate with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The waters during this time of year provide peak opportunity for sea turtles to feed, with many species spending most of the summer and early fall in the area. Several endangered species also inhabit the area, including the leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtles.

Dourdeville says that Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay is excited the organizers of the fishing derby are helping to get the word out to all local and non-local boaters participating.

“The derby always draws hundreds of people and so we hope to make more folks aware that the turtles are out there. Fisherman have always been important eyes for us on the water,” Dourdeville said.

The leading causes of sea turtle deaths are the result of vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed, vertical line fishing gear.

Dourdeville says the death count of endangered leatherback sea turtles in the area reached an all-time high last season with 31 confirmed fatalities reported. In half of those fatalities the turtle showed signs of a vessel strike.

“We’re not trying to blame boaters. We’re trying to partner with them. Ultimately, we want to understand how to protect better the areas that have heavy boating traffic, including recreational and commercial fishing,” Dourdeville explained.

“We’re trying to appeal to not just tournament people fishing, but also all boaters out on the water that leatherbacks are here, they’re really focused on fishing and maybe paying less attention than usual to boats.”

Conservationists and scientists researching the movement of the animals use turtle sightings to learn how the turtles move and use the habitat. You can report any turtle sightings by logging onto Mass Audubon’s website, or by calling toll free at 1-888-SEA-TURT.

By TIM DUNN, News Center

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