Ultraviolet lights may keep sea turtles from becoming bycatch

UV LED lightstick

Battery powered UV LED lightsticks are being used to illuminate gillnets which has been shown to reduce the interaction rates with sea turtles.

The November issue of Scientific American features PIFSC/JIMAR fishery researcher, John Wang, and his paper published in Biology Letters on the use of ultraviolet (UV) illumination to reduce sea turtle bycatch. Wang and collaborators installed UV light emitting diodes (LEDs) on gill nets to find out if they could prevent sea turtles from becoming entangled. Sea turtles caught in nets often are killed or injured. The encounter is also a costly one for the fishermen whose net is damaged by the entanglement. This novel approach to keeping turtles away from the nets could become cost-effective and a win-win for all especially if the lights can both repel turtles and attract target species.

In many coastal gillnet fisheries throughout the world sea turtles are inadvertently caught and often drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air.

In many coastal gillnet fisheries throughout the world sea turtles are inadvertently caught and often drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air.

Wang’s research has shown great promise so far. In the nets equipped with the UV LEDs, there was about a 40% reduction in sea turtle bycatch. In addition, the use of UV LEDs is more affordable for fishermen as the new LED technology costs less.

The decline in bycatch combined with comparable fish catches in the LED-equipped nets and a decrease in turtle-damaged equipment make the idea something fishermen should consider. During the next year or so, Wang plans to test LEDs emanating different wavelengths to both attract fish while at the same time deterring sea turtles. It’s a prospect that excites scientists, conservationists and fishermen, alike.

By collaborating with Mexican fishermen, Dr. Wang and his team have been able to test strategies that may be useful in reducing unwanted sea turtle interactions with gillnets.

By collaborating with Mexican fishermen, Dr. Wang and his team have been able to test strategies that may be useful in reducing unwanted sea turtle interactions with gillnets.

Fishermen in small fishing communities along the Baja California coast have been critical collaborators in testing the use of net illumination as a strategy to reduce sea turtle bycatch.

Fishermen in small fishing communities along the Baja California coast have been critical collaborators in testing the use of net illumination as a strategy to reduce sea turtle bycatch.

About NOAA Fisheries PIFSC

NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center conducts scientific research & monitoring that support the conservation and management of living marine resources.
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