Monday, 27 August 2018

Plastics weakened this rare turtle, before 190kg turtle was found dead and tangled up in fishing nets – via Herp Digest

A rare leatherback turtle found dead off the Ċirkewwa coast died from pneumonia, though its health had been weakened by ingested plastics, the environment watchdog said on Friday.

Weighing 190 kilogrammes, this rare specimen, 1.85 metres long, was first spotted last Thursday at about midday floating between Ras il-Qala and Taħt it-Trunċiera off the coast of Qala.

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species and among the heaviest modern reptiles globally. They can weigh as much as 900 kilos and do not have a hard outer shell but a carapace that is elongated and covered by skin and oily flesh, which is what gave the turtle its name.

The dead turtle, found entangled in fishing nets, was recovered by the Armed Forces of Malta in a joint operation with the Environment and Resources Authority and the Civil Protection Department. It was then taken to the Ċirkewwa quay before further examination to find the cause of death.

The ERA said on Friday that a necropsy carried out by Anthony Gruppetta on behalf of Nature Trust Malta showed the turtle had died of pneumonia that developed into a generalised inflammation. It was also noted that the animal had been severely weakened by the ingestion of plastic, found in its intestines.

These turtles are the only ones which feed exclusively on jellyfish and similar creatures, hence they are very susceptible to plastics in the sea, which they mistake for food.
Along with all marine turtles, leatherbacks have enjoyed protection in Malta since 1992
The Dermochelys coriacae, known in Maltese as fekruna sewda, is not a common turtle species in the Mediterranean.

While a previous stranding occurred in July 2015, most confirmed sightings go back decades.

The environment watchdog noted that the most common species found in Maltese waters was the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta in Latin). As for leatherbacks, the indications are that this migratory species belongs to a subpopulation from the Atlantic Ocean, which occasionally enters the Mediterranean.

Along with all marine turtles, leatherbacks have enjoyed protection in Malta since 1992 through legislation which, at the time, reflected the obligations of the Barcelona Convention. Though their distribution was wide, the ERA said their population had seriously declined globally. The northwest Atlantic populations were usually the ones that swam into the Mediterranean, and their normal nesting areas were actually in the south-eastern US and the Caribbean Sea.

The leatherback turtle has no claws on its flippers, which are more elongated and paddle-like than those of other sea turtles.
It is also considered to be special be-cause it has the widest geographical range of any of the sea turtles. It tolerates very cold waters, unlike other reptiles, due to adaptations in its circulation, high oil content and enormous size.

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