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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

A Political Animal

A sea turtle washes ashore with its fins chopped off. A second turtle appears with a hole drilled in its shell. How do these incidents relate to the U.S. presidential race? While it's not obvious, there is a connection.

The turtles were found on the shores of south Texas -- just two of the more than thirty that have turned up dead or near death there in the past few weeks. Yet these numbers alone don't surprise conservationists, who now expect to see an increase in turtle deaths once local shrimp fishermen hit the waters. It's the viciousness of the attacks that's upsetting, and the failure of Texas officials to take what conservationists consider adequate measures to prevent further deaths.

What turtle advocates want is the creation of a marine reserve off the Texas coast, an area that would be off-limits to fisherman. Shrimp fisherman, of course, oppose such a move. "It threatens their livelihood," acknowledges Teri Shore of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. "It makes them angry, and they're probably taking out their frustrations on turtles."

Granted, not all the dead turtles were mutilated. Of the Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Kemp's Ridley species found, some no doubt drowned while trapped in shrimp nets --despite the fact that these nets are supposed to contain special devices that allow turtles to escape. For that reason, the conservationists want better policing of the shrimp fleet in addition to the establishment of a marine reserve. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, however, maintains that no new actions will be taken to protect threatened sea turtles until at least next year.

Which brings us to the presidential race. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project insists the recent turtle deaths demonstrate Texas Governor George W. Bush's continued failure to protect endangered species in the state. And with Bush the likely Republican nominee for president, Teri Shore and other conservationists feel compelled to share the news with voters across the country. But whether the plight of sea turtles off the coast of Texas become a national campaign issue remains to be seen.