11/12/2019

A loggerhead making a nest with her flipper wrapped in a fishing net

Through the Rescue Network, ARCHELON’s volunteers take care of 15 sea turtles entangled to fishing nets on average every year. Last August, however, the Zakynthos team was surprised to observe a loggerhead laying her nest on Kalamaki beach, with her front flipper tightly wrapped in a fishing net. This is adding to the evidence of the impacts of abandoned fishing nets in the Mediterranean on sea turtles. Within the Life- Euroturtles project, ARCHELON is collaborating with Oceanography Centre of the University of Cyprus in order to communicate a code of conduct with regards to ghost gear next year.

Sea turtles injured by fishing gear are something that ARCHELON’s team at the Rescue Centre is used to, as more than 100 such cases have occurred in the last decade. All turtles received treatment but in some cases the infection was so bad that a flipper needed to be amputated to save the animal. Our special patients remained under care in the Rescue Centre until they were healthy again and were released after a couple of months.

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This year’s surprise, however, came from the Zakynthos team of ARCHELON volunteers who were monitoring the nesting activity on Kalamaki beach last August. They observed a loggerhead making a nest, despite that her front flipper was tightly wrapped in a fishing net. After contacting the Rescue Centre of ARCHELON, it was imperative that the net should be removed. The team waited until the nest was done and the turtle turned around towards the sea. They then immobilized the turtle in order to remove the net. This took some long and struggling minutes but she was soon free again to reach the sea. The encounter was recorded on an infrared video by Simon Renier, an ARCHELON volunteer. So far so good.

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What is worrying though, is that the numbers of fishing nets that are abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded in the sea is on the rise. Studies suggest that ghost nets are a significant and very persistent type of marine litter with numerous harmful effects for the marine and coastal environment and human livelihoods and well-being.

Why is that? The environmental impacts of abandoned fishing gear in the sea include:

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By adopting the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean (RPML) in 2013, the Mediterranean became the first regional sea with contracting parties committed to legally binding measures, programmes, and related implementation timetables on management at regional and national levels. The EU has consequently proposed legislation to reduce marine litter and ensure the recycling of disposed fishing gear.

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Surveys conducted by ARCHELON in Mesolonghi Lagoon in 2017 – 2018- 2019 showed that there were not any removable ghost nets in the lagoon, that would endanger sea turtles. The Lagoon is part of a National Wetland Park and is used by loggerheads as a foraging site. Fishermen were trained on how to safely release turtles from the natural fish culture units.

Within the Life- Euroturtles project, ARCHELON is collaborating with the Oceanography Centre of the University of Cyprus in order to communicate a code of conduct with regards to ghost gear next year.

There is much more to be done and ahead of us lies the challenge of collaboration, awareness, innovation and action.

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