Sea turtles go bad because the oceans go wrong

A turtle care centre will open in 2018 in Monaco. On this occasion, Robert Calcagno, Director of the Oceanography Museum, explains why it is urgent to take strong measures to protect the habitats of these migratory animals.

Sea turtles are only seven species in the world and they are all more or less critically endangered.

These great migrators appeared long before humans, 110 million years ago. Present in almost all oceans, they have adapted to many changes in their environment over their long history.

But for the first time, they may not survive the profound changes underway. Over the last 3 decades, there has been a collapse of turtle populations, especially in the Mediterranean. In Corsica and the metropolis, there is almost no more. It remains just in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. However, sea turtles are “alpha predators” necessary for the balance of the oceans, in the same way as sharks, which are themselves threatened by the appetite of the Chinese for fin soup. In the case of sharks, the problem is simple and we have solutions: the consumption of shark fins has dropped in China by 45% for 3 years and we no longer serve as a shark in official Party meals. But it is not so simple for turtles.

 

Why?

In general, turtles go bad because the oceans go wrong. They are the barometer of their state of health. In fact, they are the animals that roam the ocean the most, from birth on the beach to the high seas. Each stage of their life cycle is a real obstacle course. In contrast to jellyfish that benefit from all the imbalances of the oceans, turtles suffer most of the pressures that humans exert on the environment, marine and coastal. The urbanization of the littoral makes disappear many places of lay. In addition, light pollution disorients baby turtles who can not reach the sea. Not to mention the poaching of eggs.

Then there is a real lack of food, due to overfishing. In the Mediterranean, sardines and anchovies have disappeared and there is nothing more to eat for turtles. Turtles are also bycatch of longline or trawl fisheries.

Finally, pollution also affects them, including ghost fishing nets that drift offshore and in which they become entangled. Or plastic waste, especially bags they confuse with jellyfish.

 

What do they know about the impact of plastic pollution on turtles?

At the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, they collect sick or injured turtles. And also the death that must be autopsied. In the latter case, there is always plastic waste in the stomach. During one of the last autopsies, they even found a piece of tarpaulin of 20 cm2. Another had ingested some 60 plastic waste. She had no other sign of illness but was very thin. They are networking with other centres to have more statistical data on the stomach contents of sea turtles, but also fish and seabirds.

 

What are the solutions?

We need to improve our knowledge about them and preserve their habitats through strong protection measures at an international level.

At the local level, the Museum plans to open in 2018 a marine turtle care centre in Monaco. Until then, they did it in a traditional way in the laboratory of the aquarium, but they are not equipped for the care, the convalescence and the re-education. There are currently two health centres in the Mediterranean, Grau du Roi and Italy. Between the two, there will soon be the centre of Monaco. It will be equipped with a large pool of 140 m2, accessible to visitors.

There will also be a quarantine area for turtles being released. The centre will be a partner of the Cestmed (center for study and monitoring of Mediterranean turtles) which has a large lagoon of over 100 meters long, where our turtles can also stay. They will also work with the Monaco hospital, especially to make stomach enemas. They currently have in our aquariums a hawksbill seized by the Nice customs in a suitcase about 15 years ago. And two years ago, in the middle of winter, we recovered in the port of Monaco a small Caouanne turtle paralyzed by the cold.
When she reaches 10 kilos, she will be equipped with a satellite beacon and released.

 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop

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