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Over 300 Endangered Turtles Found Trapped By Creepy 'Ghost Net'

It only took one little net 😢

It was a shocking sight — hundreds of cracked and peeling turtle shells baking in the hot sun for a week off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The floating mass grave of over 300 olive ridley turtles, who are endangered in Mexico, was discovered by fishermen on Tuesday. The animals had traveled thousands of miles to lay their eggs on beaches along the Pacific, and instead met a very different fate.

While the circumstances surrounding the mass death are under investigation, authorities believe that the turtles became entangled in a nearly 400-foot-long net and subsequently drowned.

Marine biologist Bryan Wallace, a senior scientist with Conservation Science Partners and an assistant professor at Duke University, believes a “ghost net” is to blame.

“[Ghost nets] are nets that, for one reason or another, have become lost by their operators and basically continue to fish as they drift,” Wallace told The Dodo. “It can happen when there’s a big storm that comes through, which can detach the nets from their anchors or buoys.”

“They can clearly cause quite a problem because, though they are not actively fished by people, they continue to operate as nets, and even more indiscriminately,” Wallace added.

While some nets can float in the open ocean with relatively minimal impact, a net that finds its way into an area heavily populated by wildlife or a coastal region can cause havoc for marine life.

“The entanglement can happen various ways, sometimes the turtles don’t see the nets — this can happen at night,” Wallace explained. “Also, turtles and other predator species are known to scavenge from actively fishing nets — so if there are potential food items caught in the net, the turtle might have been attracted to those and then become caught.”

The turtles aren't endangered everywhere — globally they're listed as vulnerable — but Wallace said a lesson can be learned from the "shocking" number of turtles killed by this single incident. 

Olive ridley turtle on a beach in southern Mexico
Wikimedia Commons

“What it does highlight is even small amounts of gear, relatively speaking, can have a really high impact numerically on things like turtles,” Wallace noted.

However, if marine debris retrieval and responsible fishing do not become a priority, many more unwanted and unintentional deaths are sure to come.

To find out how you can get involved, check out NOAA marine debris program, and learn how you can help make the ocean a better place for all.