The conservation of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) – an EU priority for conservation species, listed in annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive, and protected under various international conventions – is of strategic importance for the whole Mediterranean basin. Fishing by-catch represents the main threat to the species’ survival. The information gathered up during TARTALIFE, allows an outline to be drawn of the impacts caused by the various types of fishing gear and which are the most impacted areas, i.e. different types of fishing gear may induce different capture and mortality rates, and affect different ecological phases of sea turtles in different areas. TARTALIFE allowed estimating that around 121 000 – 150 000 sea turtles are caught in the Mediterranean each year with about 33 000 – 40 000 dead. In the last ten years bottom trawling seems to be the fisheries mainly impacting sea turtles, with around 51 000 catches and 9 000 dead. Pelagic longlining and passive net fisheries are responsible for about 27 000 and 31 000 capture events each, with about 5 300 and 16 000 dead respectively. Bottom longlines catch around 12 000 sea turtles each year with around 2 600 dead. A worst-case scenario could be obtained considering that delayed mortality is often unknown and information is lacking in some countries. TARTALIFE has identified in Italy the areas and periods that can be considered hot-spots for the interactions between sea turtle and fishing activities. These figures, together with accounts from fishermen, and the increasing number of interventions by Italian sea turtle rescue centres, highlight the urgent need for action.
The TARTALIFE project aimed to reduce the mortality of sea turtles in 15 Italian regions facing the sea, through two main actions. Firstly, reducing turtle by-catches by technical modifications of the gears in use (surface longline, bottom trawl and fixed nets). In more detail, TARTALIFE encouraged: a) the use of circle hooks in surface longlines (which are less damaging to turtles); b) the adoption of Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs (devices that allow a captured sea turtle to escape if caught in a trawl net); c) the use of a new sea turtle visual deterrent to reduce turtle entanglements on fixed nets; d) the transition from fixed nets to a new type of pot, to be used as an alternative to fixed nets. Secondly, reducing post-capture turtle deaths by training and raising awareness among fishermen, and by strengthening rescue centres for the sea turtles with training courses and new and modern equipment.
The project TARTALIFE reduced sea turtle (Caretta caretta) mortality in 15 regions along the Italian coasts, thus contributing to the conservation of this protected species listed as priority for conservation in the Mediterranean. The project team reduced the impacts (by-catches and mortality) caused by the use of fishing gear (surface longlines, bottom trawls and set nets) through the application of:
Post by-catch mortality was reduced through:
TARTALIFE partners developed innovative low-impact fishing gears through an experimental approach. The project was successful in spreading low-impact fishing devices among fishermen, enabling the reduction of sea turtle by-catch, and reduced the harm to those accidentally captured.
The sea turtle by-catch during fishing with longlines equipped with circular hooks was reduced by 40%, and cartilaginous fish by-catch by 70%; the direct mortality was also reduced compared to traditional hooks. The flexible TED, visual deterrents and innovative pots reduced turtle by-catch by 100%. None of the low-impact fishing systems tested affected either the technical performance of the fishing gear or the capture of commercial species.
Post-capture turtle mortality was reduced through the training of 1 290 fishermen and the operators of the turtle rescue centres. The structures of Linosa-Lampedusa, Cattolica Eraclea, Asinara, Riccione, Manfredonia, Favignana (born with TARTALIFE), Pescara, Lido di Venezia, Marina di Ravenna (born with TARTALIFE), Goro (born with TARTALIFE), Pioppi-Pollica (born with TARTALIFE), Talamone have been strengthened. In addition, a series of ‘turtle collection centers’ were created, in which the turtles rest only for the time necessary for the first aid of the operators: Lampedusa, Porto Garibaldi, Ravenna, Cesenatico, Ancona, Fano, Cattolica. During the project, more than 1 500 sea turtles were hospitalised in the above mentioned rescue centres. A further lesson learned was that rescue centers work best if they work in a coordinated way. For this reason, the project team promoted the creation of a Coordination Network of the Adriatic-Ionian rescue Centres for the Protection of Marine Turtles.
During the project, it was also possible to create the first "turtle cove"; it is a fenced sea area near Numana harbour (AN) where the turtles were placed after the resting period in the tank and before being finally released. This period in a semi-natural environment proved to be very useful in verifying the health of turtles. This was also an information point for the project visited by over 70 000 tourists per year, and boosted tourism in Numana “the city of the turtles". Furthermore, from the agreement signed with the Cattolica Aquarium it was possible to create an exhibition hall on TARTALIFE activities, visited by over 250,000 tourists a year. This exhibition hall allowed to spread project activities to a wide audience and more generally to stress the importance of conservation of sea turtles. Another project added-value is the creation of the quality mark "Turtle Safe" for fishing boats - the first brand that acknowledges low-impact fishing activities for sea turtles in the Mediterranean.
During the project, 23 people were hired on fixed-term contracts, and some have become permanent employees.
The project team established 35 info-days involving 586 fishermen, info-points, and 26 info-desks in 10 different regions consulted by 900 fishermen to provide technical assistance to fishermen on funding opportunities through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for turtle-friendly tools. A total of 72 requests for financing were accepted. The project involved intense training and awareness-raising campaign for tourists, for students and dissemination of the results achieved through participation in congresses, meetings and the production of articles published in national and international scientific journals. Over 6,000 events made it possible to introduce project activities to a number of tourists exceeding one million units. The training program for students called SCOPRITARTA was attended by 204 classes. The dissemination also included 94 press releases, the publication of 780 articles mentioning the project, staff interviewed in 21 TV and radio programmes, and the publication of 9 papers in scientific journals. Questionnaires confirmed increased knowledge among fishermen of low-impact devices.
In terms of policy, the project contributes to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive, Regulation 2019/1241 on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures, the Marine Strategy Directive, the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionic region (and action plan), and other maritime and fisheries regulations. The project helped improve the conservation status of the sea turtle, which at the start of the project was classified in the IUCN Red List as "Endangered" but four years later this was changed to "Least concern".
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).