Research & Conservation

Discarded plastic bags kill local turtle

While we’re always thrilled to showcase a success stories from Malta and the Malta National Aquarium, this month’s episode forces us to share negative news as plastic claimed a local turtle off the coast of Gozo on the 15th August.

She was a juvenile leatherback, weighing in at a 190kg. Shocking images on the Times of Malta website show the moment the female leatherback was being lifted from her sea, off the coast of Gozo, with a message from the deep.

Divers found her struggling and brought her to shore, and though they had hoped to rescue the near two-metre rare turtle, it was indeed too late. The Environment Resource Authority and Armed Forces of Malta raised her body, with the University of Malta and Nature Trust vet, Anthony Grupetta, carrying out the necropsy shortly after to determine the cause of her death.

The main cause of death: plastic. In her short life the turtle had consumed several plastic bags, which and as we pointed out in an earlier Research & Conservation article called A sea turtle’s point of view, turtles often mistake for plastic bags for jellyfish – their staple diet and favorite food.

Aside from the fatal damage brought about by the plastic bags, she had also contracted a “massive internal infection” which was caused by further plastic ingestion and large bruises could be seen around her body. Sadly, she must have been in pain given the size and location of the bruising.

The bruises came about as a result of being caught up in drifting fishing nets. She probably struggled when she was caught up and the jerking motion would have caused severe stress, both on her body and in her mind. Ghost nets are often found by local divers as discarded fishing nets, not usable due to entanglement. It is the fishermen’s job to ensure they never leave dealy nets drifting around in the sea, as marine life is at stake.

At the Malta National Aquarium we are very proud to work with organisations such as Ghost Fishing to aid in the removal of fishing nets, and we also collaborate with Health Seas, an organisation promoting the well being of our marine environment. Check out the links above and also get in touch with them on their facebook pages to make their mission yours.

Perhaps the saddest part of this story is her age. At 190 kg, she is far off the potential 800 kg weight for a mature leatherback. These species can live up to over 100 years and are now listed as endangered.

The leatherback turtle is a severely endangered species

These threats are claiming lives around the world the Malta National Aquarium is extremely saddened by the news of her death. Humans must continue to strive for the environment and ensure that other animals are not affected negatively through our activity. Unfortunately for mankind, this death is entirely caused by human activity and could so very easily be avoided.

A statement was released by Nature Trust – FEE Malta:
Nature Trust – FEE Malta keeps appealing to the public to dispose of plastic waste correctly. Our seas are full of such plastic litter. This is being eaten up by fish and so on. Plastic is causing a lot of marine animals to die each year – like this very young and rare turtle.”

On the back of this tragedy, they will also start a plastic waste campaign this September to raise awareness and help keep our coastlines clean.

We encourage everyone to take part in local clean up, be it a huge nationwide one, or perhaps a little one cleaning your own street. All plastics end up in the sea, and some sadly end up in the mouths of our beloved marine life.

A totally and unacceptable reality of the Maltese shores
Clean up power!

Malta would do well to take Mumbai’s example, where a beach once dubbed as a “dump” has now turned into a hatchery for turtles following two years of intensive clean ups, lead by a legendary lawyer Afroz Shah who has lead clean ups on the 3km beach since 2016, just over two years ago.

Imagine taking a stroll here…

He said that “For the first six to eight weeks, nobody joined the cleanups” despite a population of 55,000 people living along the beach. That was until two men joined, asking him for his gloves. With the following snowball effect, the rest… as they say, is history!

In a short space of time the polluted beach went from being a dump site to a beach so clean, turtles are returning to lay their eggs. Turtles always return to the beach where they themselves hatched on, many years ago and it would be a different scene to see what their original birth place must have looked like decades ago given the rise of plastic pollutants on the shores.

Many of our local beaches could use such crucial care, and while we are proud to see many clean pus taking place locally, we can never do enough to help Mother Nature. We know turtles love to lay eggs on Maltese beaches, so let’s do our bit to ensure they are not greeted, or indeed killed, by plastic and fishing nets as they make their migration to our shores. Life is too sensitive to be able to deal with our consumer mentality, and we must admit that each and everyone of us is responsible for our environment. As the Mumbai example shows: it does not take much to make a massive change, so get picking today!

You know that plastic bottle does not belong on the sand, and we’ve got plenty of bins around the island that need filling.

Walk – Pick – Bin – Repeat: it’s as simple as that.

This should be you…
Plastic solutions

Granted by now you’ve realised we are all about reducing plastic, and thankfully one of the world’s major brands Adidas is on the same page as us. This season, top sporting teams such as Juventus,

Parley’s company policy is flawless, and with the boost received from Adidas, the marketing reach is massive

Manchester United and Real Madrid will sport a very unique third kit: a kit made entirely from discarded plastic.

Perhaps the best thing about this is the source of the plastic: it is all picked from the ocean! Hurray!

Adidas teamed up with Parley to prevent plastic entering the ocean, and also transform it into high performance sportswear. Having major football clubs in on the idea makes a huge difference due to their global pull and major attraction. Now billions of people will be exposed to the superb idea!

Mobile power

Another solution comes from Pela, who build mobile phone cases made entirely out of decomposable materials, meaning when we do need to discard it, responsibly, it will not leave a carbon footprint. It is a tiny solution, but a huge step in the right direction.

Perfect example of reuse

“While it’s difficult to know exact figures, a 2012 report from WSPA indicates that between 57,000 and 135,000 whales are entangled by plastic marine debris every year in addition to the inestimable – but likely millions – of birds, turtles, fish and other species affected by plastic marine debris.” – Parley

We are responsible. We can make the change.