by Andrea Ciappara Yr. 8
The St. Nicholas College Rabat Middle School Eko-Skola committee was invited to the YRE and Turtle release event and I was there to witness it. Before the actual turtle release, we were given information including how these turtles had been found and what had happened to them.
The first speaker was an AFM Sea Police Officer with 25 years of experience who explained to us that some turtles would have got tangled into fishermen’s nets and some would have swallowed hooks. When individuals find these turtles they should take them to dry land and they shouldn’t do anything to them, not even try to remove the nets around them, since they may be doing the turtles more harm than good. The sea police are trained by Nature Trust Malta and know what to do in cases like these. A curious thing is when they find turtles with crabs pinching their tails. This is a means for the crabs to be carried to the surface by the turtles whenever they need to breathe. If the turtles dare go down again, they pinch them even harder and the turtles have to return to the surface. When the Sea Police find these turtles in this kind of situation, they carry them to the boat, remove the crab and release the turtles back into the sea. Apart from problems, the Sea Police also see wonderful views and they also report which species they have seen in a day’s work. Sometimes they spot dolphins. An interesting thing that this officer pointed out is that over the years, species like jellyfish vary in number from year to year.
Harry Wilkinson, another speaker, has worked with turtles for a year. He talked to us about different species of sea turtles including the Loggerhead, found in the Mediterranean Sea and about problems encountered. Turtles sometimes interfere in our life and we interfere in theirs but research shows that very often humans cause problems. Humans have dominated the planet, so many animals are endangered and unfortunately, sea turtles are on this list. Night activity and light prevent the little hatchlings to reach the sea because they confuse the light with the moon. Fishing also doesn’t help. During shrimp trawls, sea turtles are caught and sometimes shrimps and other sea creatures used as bait are eaten by the turtles and they end up swallowing hooks too. Oil spills also cause severe problems like diseases and feminization of male turtles. Turtles, including females that go to shore to lay eggs, are also being trapped in beach furniture. In certain countries, beach driving is another problem especially to little hatchlings trying to make it to the sea but ending up crushed. Plastic definitely doesn’t help! Sea turtles eat jellyfish as they mistake plastic for jellyfish and this affects their immune system. Other complications happen when turtles get tangled in fishermen’s nets.
The third speaker was a lady who came from the Authority for Tourism and she spoke to us about the importance of cleanliness on our beaches. There is a certificate which is called the Blue Flag which certifies that the beach follows the necessary criteria. There should be clean sea water, which people from the government test. Swimmers are also to dispose of their waste properly and moreover, people are sent to sieve the sand to remove micro-garbage. There also have to be toilets and showers for the swimmers to wash themselves after their swim. Inspectors are sent to see if the bay is appropriate for swimmers. Sometimes natural elements don’t help. Strong waves and winds wash over and tip down outdoor beach furniture. If the beach is not adequate for swimmers, this award is not given at all and if this beach has been awarded the Blue Flag, and does not keep up the standard, the flag will be taken away.
The fourth speaker named Grace told us that turtles find it hard to live in harsh conditions because of climate change. So they migrate to Malta for warmer seas but there is the ‘human and wildlife conflict’. One problem for the sea turtles is that humans go fishing and there is less food for them left in our seas.
Litter thrown into the sea is washed onto our beaches and that is not nice for swimmers especially in summer. This is what the fifth speaker focused on, specifying which sizes of litter are considered as ‘Macro’ and ‘Micro’. Relatively large particles of plastic found especially in the marine environment, are known as ‘macro-plastics’ and this refers to litter which is larger than 0.5 cm in size. What is commonly known as ‘micro-plastics’, is used to describe plastic particles less than 0.5 cm in diameter, which includes particles sometimes as small as 10 nanometres.
Back to our turtles….the next speaker also told us that the turtles that were released were named Sophie, Victoria and Gabriel. Sophie had been hit by a propeller and had a net around her neck. Victoria had swallowed plastic and Gabriel had been hit by a propeller, had hooks in his stomach and had eaten plastic. To cure them, they had to give them special treatment. Since they could not perform surgery on them, first they had to remove all the things they had swallowed without using anaesthetic. Then they had to force them to eat to regain their strength and arrive to this day.
After the speeches, the turtle were brought over to the beach in special boxes with sea water inside. The release took place and the three turtles mentioned were set free. This was a unique experience for everyone present since everyone was glad to see the turtles swim safely to their freedom, with wishful thinking that we will never see them again!