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Going to be on the water this Cup Match? Spare a moment of thought for the Island's turtles

Royal Gazette

By Nadia Arandjelovic
Published July 31, 2013 at 8:00 am

RG_130731_1a.jpeg
Photo by Alistair & Rowan Border. This adult Green Turtle was found dead with
its carapace shattered in the waters off Darrell's Island, Warwick early this month.
Green Turtles are a protected species in Bermuda.

Boating season is underway and local conservationists are urging the public to think green this Cup Match weekend — green sea turtles, that is.

With summer in full swing, the Department of Conservation Services and Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo (BAMZ) are encouraging residents to be vigilant while on the waters, so we can reduce the impact on turtles living around the Island.

BAMZ Curator, Patrick Talbot, said so far this year they have seen six turtles killed from boat impacts, while an additional turtle died after it had been hooked by a fisherman.

Just three weeks ago an adult green turtle was found dead, floating near Darrell’s Island, as reported on the Bermuda Audubon Society’s Facebook page.

Last year the museum had learned of four boat impacts with five turtle entanglements prior to Cup Match weekend.

The numbers were lower in 2011 — with two entanglements and two turtles ingesting plastics being reported to BAMZ.

Mr Talbot said annual totals were “much more”, considering they are not made aware of all affected turtles, but only those brought in to the aquarium.

He believes educating the public is key in the fight to protect these animals.

“We want boaters to be cognisant of the fact that these animals are out there and have been here longer than people,” he said.

“Turtles are air-breathers and often come to the surface unaware of the presence of a speeding boat or may even bask on the surface in the sun, however, they do tend to remain in certain areas around the Island and if the public is conscious of where those areas are then collisions can be reduced or altogether avoided.

“Anyone operating a boat should be mindful of boating regulations and look out for the posted signs indicating the presence of turtles.”

He said the green turtle was the most common breed on the Island; they are primarily vegetarian species and feed almost exclusively on sea grass.

People should therefore be “always be on the lookout for turtles” when in these grassy areas.

According to Mr Talbot, Bermuda sees most of its turtle injuries in the summer months when more people are on the Island.

“Collisions are not the only dangers affecting these animals through human activity, but also entanglement with fishing line or other debris found in the water and ingestion of man-made materials,” the curator said.

Wildlife Ecologist Mark Outerbridge, from the Department of Conservation Services, said turtles have been protected through legislation since 1972, but many are still dying from human related activities.

Mr Outerbridge said: “Entanglement in monofilament fishing line (which very often leads to drowning) and being hit by motor boats and jet skis (which causes major bodily harm) are the are the most prevalent anthropomorphic hazards causing the reported strandings of sea turtles in Bermuda.

“If there is any good news, it is that these are largely preventable.”

He said people should take the time to consider the following actions:

  • Pay attention while in locations frequented by turtles — for example, over seagrass meadows — and drive slowly when you are within 100m of the shoreline, or in an area where turtle warning signs are posted.
  • Wearing polarised sun glasses will also help to make turtles resting at the surface more visible to boaters, Mr Outerbridge said.
  • If you are out fishing, discard unwanted fishing line properly rather than throw it into the ocean, and make an effort to recover any line that has become entangled in the marine environment.
  • Try to avoid the use of helium balloons and do not pollute the ocean, especially with plastic bags, since both of these can be mistaken for food by turtles. When turtles ingest these materials they can lead to serious health complications.

Mr Outerbridge said: “A little bit of extra effort can go a long way to reducing that annual admission rate of stranded turtles into the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo as well as the number of turtle deaths around Bermuda.”

Anyone who finds an injured or entangled turtle, should call the aquarium on 293-2727; or take the animal to the aquarium as soon as possible.