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100,000,000 years old… 10 years left to live

Robert Ovetz

1st March, 2003

It swam the oceans when dinosaurs walked the earth. Now our hunger for tuna means the Pacific leatherback turtle could be extinct within 10 years.

Dressed in brightly-coloured turtle costumes, a crowd of chanting protesters wound its way along the busy streets of San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. As the protesters marched and danced their way past the many harbourside restaurants lining the way, their chant rung out: ‘Get on the right track; stop killing the leatherback!’ Several bemused diners looked up from their meals, wondering how their overfilled plates of swordfish steak and tuna Niçoise could possibly have anything to do with the demise of a turtle.

They soon found out. October’s demonstration marked the launch of the California-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s (STRP) Save the Leatherback campaign for a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

Longlines are not ordinary fishing lines. The word ‘long’ does them a dis-service. They carry not one hook, but thousands, stretched out along an invisible mono-filament line up to 60 miles long. If I was sitting in my trawler on the Thames looking up at the Houses of Parliament, my longline would stretch all the way back out past Hampton Court, past Heathrow Airport, the M25, Windsor Castle, all the way out to Oxford. Or I could...


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