A green sea turtle, listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List © Andrey Nekrasov / WWF
A report launched on 16 June reveals that an estimated 29,000 marine turtles are being killed each year by tropical prawn trawls which export to the EU. The largest market in the EU for these prawns (also known as shrimp) is the UK.
“People in the UK will be shocked to hear that eating one of their favourite types of seafood might be contributing to the needless deaths of threatened turtles,” said Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF.
“The UK is importing a huge volume of tropical prawns into the country and the fisheries in countries … who export to the UK market have had little incentive to move away from poor practice.”
Tropical prawns, sometimes known as shrimps, are a popular seafood in the UK © Michel Nalovic
It is estimated that 46 per cent of prawns imported into the UK are wild-caught, with many being caught off the coast of countries such as Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.
The nets also catch large number of turtles, including the Critically Endangered hawksbill, which become entangled and drown.
Of the seven species of marine turtle, six are currently threatened with extinction and the other is listed as Data Deficient.
The hawksbill turtle is one of two marine turtle species listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List © Nik Aukan / WWF
An effective solution exists which involves the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). These are escape panels in the nets which allow turtles to swim free, and can reduce the capture of marine turtles by up to 97 per cent.
Whilst there is a minor reduction in the number of prawns caught (around two per cent), studies show that if turtles are removed from the haul, fewer prawns are crushed and thus overall profitability is increased.
In the US, tropical prawn imports where TEDs are not used have been banned.
The IUCN Red List status of marine turtles
Hawksbill – Critically Endangered
Kemp’s ridley – Critically Endangered
Loggerhead – Endangered
Green – Endangered
Olive ridley – Vulnerable
Leatherback – Vulnerable (of the seven subpopulations, four are listed as Critically Endangered, one as Least Concern, and two as Data Deficient)
Flatback – Data Deficient
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine