ASU conservation scientist on a mission to save sea turtles

Jesse Senko

Ever since the magical experience of riding on a turtle while on a snorkeling tour at 12 years old, Jesse Senko has been obsessed with sea turtles. It’s an obsession that continues to fuel him as he works as a marine biologist and conservation scientist at Arizona State University to save the creatures.

“Fishing gear is the greatest threat to sea turtles worldwide,” Senko said. “Sea turtles are vital for the health of the world’s oceans. They perform fundamental roles in ocean ecosystems, many of which are not fulfilled by other species. And humans need healthy oceans to survive and thrive.”

However, like anything worth doing, saving sea turtles is far from easy and involves a lot of work, particularly because of the numerous facets of the problem. Saving sea turtles is tied to sustainable fishing, which is tied to resilient coastal communities, and which involves engineering transformative fishing gear and reducing plastic waste in the oceans.

To address the interdisciplinary nature of the problem, Senko assembled a team to develop solar powered net lights that would reduce turtle, shark and ray by-catch and can be recharged instead of being dumped into the ocean and worsening the global plastic problem. The team involves engineers Jennifer Blain Christen, Mark Bailly, Christopher Lue Sang, Stuart Bowden and Michael Goryll, all from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Also on board are sea turtle expert Agnese Mancini, the scientific coordinator of Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias, a Mexican nonprofit coalition of people and communities working to save sea turtles, and fishermen brothers Felipe and Juan Pablo from the remote island of El Pardito. It’s on that very Island that Senko’s revolution has been launched. More testing remains, but so far, the lights are effective and Senko’s sea turtle ride has only just begun.