Sunday, May 3, 2009

What happened to Stubs, the Olive Ridley turtle?

On the 4th of May 2007, exactly 2 years ago today, MCSS Research Officer, Elke Talma, was called out to investigate a report of an injured turtle at Mare Anglais, North Mahe. The animal, which was still alive but had lost its front right flipper, was identified by International experts, Dr. Michael Coyne and Dr Brendan Godley from, as a juvenile Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), a species which breeds in Western Mozambique and India. This was the first ever, and only, recorded sighting of a live Olive Ridley turtle in Seychelles wasters, previously only one dead Olive Ridley carcass had been found here.

Elke recording details of the then “unidentified” species of turtle found washed ashore at Mare Anglais, photo Niamh Brosnan.

According to the FAO Marine Turtle Catalogue, this pan-tropical species lives mainly in the northern hemisphere. They are usually seen in large flotillas travelling along the continental shelves between breeding and feeding grounds in the Eastern Pacific and the Indian Ocean but despite its wide range of distribution, this species is nearly unknown around oceanic islands like Seychelles.

“Stubs”, as the turtle was been nicknamed, had been tangled in marine debris/ropes and probably had trouble keeping on course. Unable to swim properly, it drifted until eventually being washed ashore on a small beach at Mare Anglais on the North coast of Mahe.

“Stubs”, the first live Olive Ridley turtle ever reported in Seychelles waters, photo Niamh Brosnan.

After checking that the young turtle was otherwise healthy and taking lots of pictures to document this unusual find, the energetic “Stubs” was finally sent on his/her way to join the great oceanic migration of the Olive Ridley’s.

Marine debris – why is it a threat to turtles?

Marine debris is typically defined as any man-made object discarded, disposed of, or abandoned that enters the coastal or marine environment. It may enter directly from a ship, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris, such as tar balls, plastic bags, balloons, and ghost fishing gear etc., are a major problem for marine turtles that spend all or a significant portions of their life cycle in the open ocean. These turtles, often ingest or become entangled in marine debris as they feed along oceanographic fronts, where debris and their natural food items converge.

Turtle tangled in discarded fishing net, photo Michel Gunther.

There are many programmes around the world that are looking at preventing and reducing the occurrence of marine debris. With a little help from you maybe “Stubs” and his relatives will be able to continue to safely swim through our oceans for generations to come.

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