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How a simple technology is saving turtles

Shrimp fishing is one of the biggest threats to the world’s sea turtles. Every year, tens of thousands of olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles get trapped—and drown—inside the trawl nets that shrimp boats drag along the sea floor. But a simple invention called the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) is helping them swim free.

© Richard Bornemann/WWF-US
As trawl nets are pulled along the sea floor, they scoop up shrimp in their wide mouths and funnel their catch through a narrowing sleeve of mesh that ends in a bag. But the nets also frequently ensnare other, larger species—from sea turtles to fish to sharks.
© Richard Bornemann/WWF-US
A Turtle Excluder Device is a simple metal grid that fits inside the neck of a trawl net. It’s basically a filter: While shrimp pass between its bars to the back of the net, turtles and other larger animals bump against the grid and escape through a flap in the mesh.

Better with age

TEDs first appeared in the late 1970s, when the National Marine Fisheries Service created them to help shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico reduce the number of turtles getting caught in their nets. Through testing and technological advances, the tool has undergone numerous improvements in the decades since.

97%

Tests by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found a 97% drop in sea turtle captures through the use of TEDs. Other studies have found that TEDs reduce overall bycatch by as much as 91%.

Uncommon denominator

It is now mandatory for all commercial shrimping fleets in the US to use TEDs, but the devices haven’t yet become common in fleets at the global level.

Back on the beach

Fishing operations used to be a primary cause of death for Florida’s green turtles. But since the spread of TEDs throughout US shrimping fleets, the animal’s population has grown. There was a record number of green turtle nests on Florida beaches in 2015.

Better, faster, stronger

TEDs don’t just lower turtle mortality: They improve the quality of shrimp catch. For one thing, the devices prevent turtles and other bigger species from crushing the shrimp. And because the TEDs remove heavier species from the nets, shrimp boats get increased fuel efficiency.

Sustainable horizons

WWF is working with a wide array of partners—from fishing communities to governments to financial institutions—to promote broader use of TEDs as a tool for sustainable and responsible fishing.

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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