How They Saved a Sea Turtle's Life and How You Can Too

When you put that fishing line into the rich waters of the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica, you never know for certain what may latch on to the other end.

You could engage in battle with a powerful marlin, or be up against the brute strength of a full-grown dorado, which is a fish with a couple aliases — mahi mahi in some parts of the world and dolphinfish elsewhere.

Fishing this part of the global seas also provides you with a very good chance to meet the quite peculiar-looking and appropriately-named roosterfish with its spikey pompadour, or you could land a huge red snapper, a snook, or arm wrestle with the acrobatic and airborne sailfish.

But on a recent fishing trip off Quepos, located in central Costa Rica south of the capital city of San Jose, Toledo husband and wife Scott and Alix Kozak found reptile resident of these tranquil waters, and it was in distress.

While on board the “Pacific Fly” and fishing for marlin and dorado with captain Rocco Ramirez and his crew, the skipper alerted the group that there was a sea turtle in the water nearby, and it appeared to be struggling. The Kozaks quickly pulled in their fishing lines as Captain Rocco swung the boat around and got next to the floundering reptile.

“As we got closer, we could see that the turtle’s legs were tangled in a fishing net,” Scott Kozak said. The captain managed to get the vessel alongside the turtle, which Kozak estimated to be about 35-40 pounds.

sea turtle stuck in fishing net

“We all knew that if we didn’t cut him free, that turtle was going to die,” Kozak said. “Santos and Gabriel jumped into action pulling the buoy in and then went to work cutting the turtle free. We all cheered as the turtle swam away unharmed.”

The crew from Pacific Fly then cut the net up and stored it for recycling. If you or your loved ones decide to spend time in the ocean, you can help save sea turtles too. When you see an abandoned fishing net floating across the surface of the water, take the time to retrieve it and cut it up so that it can do no harm to local marine life. Sea Turtles are affected by light pollution, so don't EVER use flash photography around sea turtle nests. Please also be sure to report and suspicious individuals located on breeding grounds to appropriate authorities. Don't spend time near the ocean but still want to help the sea turtles? 

Kozak, who along with his best friend and wife owns and operates Manchester Roofing in Toledo, said the group was fishing in calm seas about 30 miles out, where the ocean is about 3500 feet deep. He said it is common to see healthy, free-swimming sea turtles as well as porpoises that far from shore. He also said that he has noticed a decline over the years in healthy marine life like sea turtles. 

There are at least four species of sea turtle found in the waters off Costa Rica — leatherbacks, greens, olive ridleys, and hawksbills. Kozak said there is quite a bit of commercial fishing with nets and long lines in the Quepos area, with those entities pursuing mackerel, mullet, and other smaller fish.

When those nets and lines are left in the water for long periods of time without being checked, they become a serious threat to the sea turtles that frequent these waters. Didiher Chacón-Chaverri with Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) said his organization is working with commercial fishermen to involve them in the sound stewardship of sea turtles. Remember, if you find a wandering net, remove it from the water as it doesn't belong there and can kill local marine life.

He said LAST is training these fishermen in both the need and the proper technique for releasing turtles, and about changes they can make in their tackle and approach to lessen the chances of harming sea turtles. Chacón-Chaverri said LAST is also training local police and assisting local authorities in the enforcement of laws protecting sea turtles. The group also continues its longstanding efforts to rescue and release turtles and provide environmental education to local communities.

Those efforts are showing some success, he pointed out, since between 2010-13 the group received about 30 reports a month of injured or killed sea turtles, and the frequency of those reports has dropped to around one per month. Chacón-Chaverri added that when the commercial fishing fleets are seasonally present near the sea turtle feeding grounds, more conflicts do occur.

The Kozaks, who bought a home in Costa Rica in 2016, were just grateful to be a small part of the effort to protect the turtles that share these waters with so many other sea creatures and fish.

“As it is every day, it was a beautiful day of fishing in Costa Rica and it felt great to be able to assist in an ocean rescue,” Scott Kozak said.

Save the Sea Turtles features unique gifts and pleasant treats that help give back (unlike other bracelet companies) to Sea Turtle Foundation, to aid them in their mission to rescue endangered sea turtles! Check it out!

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