On the morning of July 24-25, 2019, a loggerhead turtle laid eggs for the first time – according to official records – on a beach in the Balearic Islands, specifically in Platja d’en Bossa (Sant Josep, Eivissa). During that night she laid 58 eggs; A few days later, another specimen laid 102 eggs on Es Cavallet beach, in the Parc Natural de ses Salines d’Eivissa. In fact, Greece is the most common area for loggerhead turtle spawning. However, it is suspected that climate change and rising temperatures have led turtles to choose beaches along the entire Spanish Mediterranean coast, including the islands of Eivissa and Menorca.
The flamingos, cornered in Eivissa by the drought and human pressure
loggerhead turtle or caretta caretta It is a marine reptile of the family Cheloniidae whose shell can exceed a meter in length and weigh up to 200 kilograms. It is the most abundant sea turtle in the Mediterranean Sea, with an estimated population of 25,000 specimens (between the Balearic Islands, Murcia, Corsica and North Africa), according to the Balearic Sea Report.
“It does not mean that it is the first nest, but rather that it is the first that has been detected,” Víctor Colomar, veterinarian of the Consortium for the Recovery of Fauna of the Balearic Islands (COFIB), a body dependent on the Balearic Islands, tells elDiario.es. Ministry of Environment and Territory of the Government. Before the first nesting attempts, Colomar points out, thermometers were installed under the sand – in almost the entire western Mediterranean – to study which beaches would be suitable for sea turtles to nest. “The warmest beaches in Eivissa have been the first chosen ones”, he assures.
Scientists take care of them in conservation centers
Five years earlier, in the summer of 2014, more than a hundred eggs were found on the beach of San Juan (Alicante), Marta Muñoz, a veterinarian at the Fundación Oceanogràfic de València, told elDiario.es. In Eivissa there were attempts before 2019 that did not bear fruit. “A turtle tried it for three nights in a row in 2015. Turtles often try to lay a nest and in the end they don’t,” Guillem Félix explains to elDiario.es, adding that both this summer and last there were attempts in Formentera. “Sometimes they don’t get it due to anthropic causes (due to human activity), because the beach is not suitable, they are bothered or they are too young,” he adds.
When an event of these characteristics occurs, the scientists point out, it is very important not to touch or disturb the animal (neither make noise nor take photos) and notify 112 immediately. The call will activate the device that will mobilize the experts who, in the event of the Balearic Islands, are the COFIB technicians together with workers from the Palma Aquarium, who are in charge of the care and control of the eggs until they hatch.
“Our job is to help the turtles to increase their survival rate. If the size allows it, we allocate eggs to artificial incubation to learn more about the species and it serves as an indicator to monitor the nest”, explains Félix. In the case of the sea turtle eggs that remained guarded in Es Cavallet, were transferred in September 2019 in incubators due to storms and changing temperatures, which can endanger the birth of the young.
Once the hatchlings are transferred to the conservation centers, the technicians begin the program of Head Starting. “Between a week and twelve days after birth, they begin to feed,” says Félix. At first, they are fed (three times a day, every day of the week) with tweezers a porridge made from a mixture of squid, shrimp, white and blue fish and spinach. From the fourth month, the same food, but in pieces instead of porridge (twice a day with one fast day a week). Finally, after eight months, they are given large or whole pieces (once a day, fasting twice a week). In addition, weekly controls are carried out regarding their weight and measurements; Veterinarians carry out regular checks to detect possible anomalies and, if necessary, administer treatments.
Before being released into the sea, they are cared for in a marine area that recreates conditions similar to those they will have when they return to their natural habitat. When they reach 300 grams of weight (it must be taken into account that when they are born they weigh between 13 and 14 grams), they are given a microchip that identifies them individually and, sometimes, a satellite marking that geolocates them. “The reintroduction of these specimens after the program is a very important educational tool”, explains Félix. Before being released, they are given one last test to determine their sex, since although when they are adults, their sex is easily identifiable, it is not so during their first years of life.
wrapped in plastic
However, sea turtles do not always reach the Mediterranean coast in good condition. Sometimes they arrive very injured or even dead. In these cases, the same protocol must be followed as when a nesting attempt is sighted: call 112 so that the Palma Aquarium technicians, in collaboration with the COFIB, activate the rescue program.
In most of the occasions in which they arrive, it is as a consequence of being involved in entanglement by ghost nets (they include any type of abandoned, lost or discarded gear or fishing equipment that entangles the turtles). These nets (it is believed that they come from North Africa and are used as subsistence fishing methods by very poor populations) can cause an infection that, if not treated by a professional, can end with the death of the animal. For this reason, the experts insist, it is very important not to do anything until the authorized technicians from the Palma Aquarium Foundation arrive.
“They can arrive with necrotic fins as a result of these ghost nets. Before removing the entanglement, we generally apply antibiotics to them”, explains Xisca Pujol, head of the Palma Aquarium Foundation Marine Fauna Recovery Center. “If it is not done this way, blood circulation can be compromised, causing an infection. If you remove the entanglement, this contained blood infection can spread throughout the body, causing septicemia, which is a generalized infection. That can kill the animal,” says Pujol. Sometimes the only way to save a turtle that arrives with a necrotic flipper is surgical amputation.
Turtles can arrive with necrotic fins as a result of ghost nets. If you remove the entanglement, this contained blood infection can spread throughout the body, causing a generalized infection. that can kill her
— Head of the Palma Aquarium Foundation Marine Fauna Recovery Center
After the first intervention, the veterinarians and technicians carry out a series of analyzes and X-rays and monitor the evolution of the animals admitted to the Palma Aquarium facilities. The veterinary team determines what treatment to follow: if it only needs antibiotics, if physiotherapy or cures are necessary, or if a fin amputation is necessary. “The diagnostic tests and the analytics are repeated, until he receives the veterinary discharge and is reintroduced into the sea. This process lasts an average of two months, but it can be shorter or longer, each case is different”, explains Pujol.
It may also be the case that they arrive with digestive problems, because they have ingested a rope or other types of objects. “You have to administer oils and antibiotics to expel it,” says Pujol. In other cases they can arrive floating due to lung problems: this summer they have extracted five liters of air from a sea turtle that floated like a buoy in Eivissa. Others have suffered head injuries. Each case involves specific cures and treatments.
An important factor for sea turtles – which do not regulate their body temperatures on their own – is the temperature of the sand in which they lay their eggs. Above 28 and a half degrees, females are born. Below, males. For them, the beaches of the Mediterranean are, in general, still cold. “If many more females are born than males, the population becomes unbalanced,” explains Muñoz, a veterinarian at the Fundación Oceanogràfic de València. Regarding the possibilities of carrying out this incubation artificially, Muñoz clarifies that the global impact is very small. “In conservation centers we could incubate at male temperature, but the final population we are reaching is very small.” Therefore, climate change causes more female than male sea turtles to be born, which causes an imbalance between the sex ratios of these animals.
a protected species
The turtles caretta caretta They are very important for the marine ecosystem. It is a species protected by state and international legislation and, Muñoz points out, listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the fact that it is nesting on the Mediterranean coast is not necessarily positive news, since it is linked to climate change. “It can be a serious indicator. The dynamics of all populations of all animal species are increasing density or habitat. Invasive species are taking advantage of climate change to expand. The bad news is climate change, the good news is that some species manage to read it and anticipate this increase in temperature”, says Colomar.
Five sea turtles that were recovered by the Palma Aquarium have been released this Wednesday. Four of the five were found entangled with plastic or nets, which has involved the amputation of the affected fin, explains the Ministry of the Environment in a press release.
This year, the COFIB, through the Palma Aquarium, has recorded the stranding of 37 live turtles: twenty in Mallorca, nine in Eivissa and eight in Menorca. Regarding the causes, 28 of them suffered entanglement and five floated after having ingested foreign objects. Of the remaining four, one was accidentally caught in a fishing net and one had ingested a rope, while the other two suffered injuries. Most of them, a total of 28, recovered and were released; four died during the first days due to the serious condition they were in and two continue to recover. The remaining three were released by individuals who did not notify them.