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Story of the Turtle

It had been a hard sail so far. Despite leaving Antigua with a perfect weather forecast, after only one day, the forecast changed dramatically and we had to dodge a growing depression by sailing North for three days.  Then, about a hundred and forty miles out from Horta in the Azores after making reasonable passage times the wind died and we were stuck, creeping along at two knots on a glassy sea.  My fourth transatlantic crossing was getting challenging.

But sometimes the fates are with you. With clear skies and a flat calm we could just make out a mess of floating discarded fishing net bobbing slowly in the swell about 200 meters off on our starboard side.   In it there seemed to be something moving. It wasn’t as if we were actually going anywhere so we launched the dinghy and myself and my first mate set off for a look.  A few minutes later it became clearer, a large and exhausted turtle was trapped in the rubbish and looking pretty unhappy. It was well and truly caught up and seemed to be at the end of its energy. Using my emergency knife,  together we were able to cut away at the netting until eventually the lines parted, the tangled mess unravelled and the turtle swam away.  Ok, it did try to bite me, but I understand how it felt and no hard feelings.

A little help for marine life and a horrible reminder of the sheer volume of discarded fishing equipment littering the world’s oceans.  The harsh reality is that the single biggest source of plastic choking the life in our oceans is purposefully or accidently lost, discarded, or abandoned fishing nets, ropes, FADs (fish aggregating devices), long lines, and plastic fishing crates and baskets.

Sea turtles are doubly affected by abandoned fishing gear because when nets wash up on their nesting beaches the mother turtles get trapped when coming to lay their eggs and their babies can’t climb over the debris to reach the sea once they hatch.

If we really care about the problem of plastic in the oceans, we need to address the issue of fishing gear. And until we come up with better options, that means dropping fish from the menu.