Sea Turtles Hunted to Brink, Study Finds

Sea turtles are being killed by the thousands by commercial fishermen in Nicaragua, according to a new report.

Turtles that have been tagged have a nearly 50 percent chance of being dead a year later.

"Green turtles cannot take this relentless pounding by the Nicaraguan sea turtle fishing industry," said researcher Cathi Campbell of the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society and lead author of the study. "Drastic reductions are needed in fishing levels, or both the turtles -- and turtle fishers -- will vanish within a matter of years."

The study is detailed in the journal Herpetologica.

Among the those being killed are adult turtles from Tortuguero, a world famous turtle-nesting beach in Costa Rica.  The largest remaining green turtle population in the Atlantic Ocean lives in this region, scientists believe.

The turtles grow and mature slowly.

About 11,000 green sea turtles are harvested annually in Nicaragua for local consumption.  To sustain the fishery, that number would have to drop to 3,000 or less, the study concludes.

Other countries are frustrated, because the turtles migrate to the Nicaragua from around the Caribbean.

"Other countries are doing so much to protect nesting populations and in-water aggregations of green turtles," Campbell said, noting that Costa Rica in particular has worked hard to protect nesting turtles from poachers.  "Nicaragua plainly needs to do more to protect what is an international resource."

Image at top: A green sea turtle in an aquarium. Credit: AP Photo