After learning that HEART was a volunteer project, schools from across the nation became interested in joining the turtle project. Allen made sure each child that sent HEART a $4 donation, enough to feed a hatchling for a year, received a certificate of thanks.
Each year that NOAA was releasing thousands of hatchlings into the gulf; thousands of turtles were being killed by trawl techniques used to catch shrimp. Although sea turtles were on the endangered species list and protected from being killed or captured by the Endangered Species Act, there was little enforcement of the law.
“We lost thousands of turtles because of shrimp trawls. Remember, a turtle is not a fish; it needs to breath. Of course, the shrimpers and fishing industry argued that their trawling techniques were harmless, but we could prove it was not harmless by the number of dead turtles being washed-up as the trawlers moved up and down the coast,” said Allen.
After a lot of experimentation, the National Marine Fisheries Service developed the Turtle Extruder Device (TED); a device that allows turtles to escape the trawl nets. A law now mandates that all shrimp trawlers have TEDs on their nets.
“The shrimpers fought us tooth and nail, and they really resented a homemaker telling them to change they way they fished,” Allen said with a laugh. “We ended up having to sue the national Fisheries Service to get the TEDs on all the shrimpers. We won the case, but our work is never done.”