Conservation and preservation of sea turtles
The CRAM Foundation and the Banco Santander Foundation work together to preserve a very vulnerable species.
Many people travel to exotic places, from Bali to Costa Rica, to see the sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beach in what is undoubtedly a magical moment of nature. But you do not have to go so far to marvel at these splendid shelled animals that know how to take life calmly, because there are also turtles in the Mediterranean. They are mostly of the loggerhead species (Caretta caretta), which can weigh up to 120 kilos and live 90 years. However, this animal population is falling rapidly due to human pressure and the destruction of its habitat, which is why the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified them as an endangered species. Luckily, there are those who fight for them.
The CRAM Foundation for the Conservation and Recovery of Marine Animals, whose base is located on the beach of El Prat de Llobregat (Barcelona), works to protect the marine biodiversity of the area through local actions, such as rescuing, caring for and the protecting of all types of mammals - especially dolphins and whales -, fish, birds, reptiles and, of course, sea turtles. In this case, the centre has launched a pioneering project for their conservation and preservation with the collaboration of the Banco Santander Foundation, which makes possible its development within the framework of the Natural Heritage Recovery Programme.
The aim is to increase knowledge of these animals to favour their conservation through research and monitoring and also to confront their main threat, which is accidental fishing. In 2016, for example, up to 85 dead sea turtles were found on the Catalan coast, many captured by trawl nets. Awareness and collaboration campaigns with the fishing sector have therefore been undertaken and a hyperbaric chamber has been designed to increase the chances of survival of the turtles captured accidentally, by reducing their stress and avoiding the decompressive syndrome they suffer (similar to the ‘bends’ suffered by divers).
Real stories with a shell
Thanks to this initiative, there are stories with a happy ending. For example, that of Coco, a small 2 kg turtle caught in a fishing net 3 miles off the coast of Sitges. The fisherman notified the Cram and, in fact it was lucky, because fragments of plastic were detected in the animal’s stomach as a result of the Mediterranean’s enormous waste contamination. After admission to the centre, Coco was returned to the sea in the summer of 2017 at the presentation of the project of the CRAM and the Banco Santander Foundation.
"The CRAM has managed to recover and release more than 500 sea turtles in 20 years"
She was not alone, because on the same day Welcome, a 6 kg turtle found floating without strength 2 miles from Barcelona, also returned to her habitat. Like Coco, he had a fragment of plastic in his digestive system and had to be treated with fluid therapy and antibiotics. And there are still more names: Lili, Ona, Casimiro, Klaus, Fortunata, Wonder ... There is even a Bowie. In fact, the CRAM has managed to recover and release more than 500 sea turtles in its more than 20 years of existence.
Four lines of action
The project for the preservation and conservation of marine turtles in the Mediterranean is based on four main lines of work, which are being developed in parallel and which could be extended to other marine protection centres:
- Satellite tracking. The CRAM follows the steps (or rather the strokes) of up to five specimens recovered in the centre, allowing their location to be known at all times and studying their habits and behaviours, for instance, to know where they have their nests or where more collisions with boats occur. In this action, they also receive collaboration from the Universitat Politècnica de València. In addition, everyone can check the route they follow through an application on their website, which also arouses some envy for their travelling spirit, as the turtle Luna left El Prat de Llobregat in 2006 and right now is in the Caribbean, and her partner Mascletà has toured the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia and Algeria.
- Reproduction in captivity. The project contemplates a study to obtain animals bred in captivity through assisted reproduction, to later reintroduce them into their natural habitat to add to the specie’s population balance. For this purpose, a complete ecographic and hormonal study was carried out on a total of six marine turtles, monthly scans were performed and different ways to obtain sperm were tried, among other actions.
- Sensitisation of the fishing sector. Regular campaigns are carried out with fishermen to increase their knowledge and training, as well as to establish a joint working framework to know how to act. Special attention was paid to the area of the Ebro delta, as it is the only area on the entire Spanish coast where trawling is allowed to a depth of under 50 metres and in which the interaction with sea turtles is greater than in other areas.
- Innovation and development. The specific hyperbaric chamber is enabling the recovery of sea turtles that would previously have died, and so the design parameters of the chamber have been made available to other recovery centres throughout Spain. In this sense, it has been demonstrated that sea turtles captured accidentally in trawl nets can suffer a gas embolism, since the stress derived from their capture alters their physiological mechanisms. Thanks to this chamber, the vets manage to dissolve the nitrogen in blood in a few hours and avoid the animal’s death.
Thanks to the four lines of work of this pioneering project, there are still hopes that the loggerhead turtle can continue to live freely and fully in the Mediterranean. Anyone who wants to can also add their grain of sand: the CRAM offers the option of sponsoring a resident turtle in the centre, volunteering or making a donation. In this way, you may not have to travel to the other side of the world to observe, study and love these shelled neighbours of ours.