This week, marine conservation charity the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) was shocked to find not one but two turtles severely hurt as a result of human activity.
One of the charity’s volunteers – Genaye Domenico – was scuba diving with Peri-Peri Divers in Tofo Beach, Mozambique, when they came across a juvenile hawksbill turtle caught in plastic. Genaye and Peri-Peri dive instructor Helen Armstrong worked together to quickly free the turtle and release it back to the ocean.
Soon after, they found a loggerhead sea turtle – still alive – with a speargun piercing its neck. They carefully took hold of the injured turtle and were able to remove the spear. Luckily, the spear didn’t seem to have pierced any vital organs and, once returned to the ocean free of the painful spear, the turtle dived down and swam away.
Marine Megafauna Foundation volunteer Genaye Domenico, 30, who was on the boat, said: “Today, while on the way back in from my dive with Peri-Peri Divers, we spotted a juvenile hawksbill turtle tangled in a plastic woven bag which we cut loose.
“Quickly after, we found a young loggerhead sea turtle with a spear through its neck. We were able to grab the loggerhead, lift it into the boat and secure the turtle while we awaited a second boat to deliver us wire cutters, as the spear was fully attached to the spear gun. Wire cutters were delivered, the spear was cut, pulled through the neck, and the loggerhead was released to the sea. Both turtles, after being helped, immediately dove deep into the sea. The spear has been given to the police.”
The area’s Community Fisheries Council (CCP) – represented in this situation by Mr. Songane – and coastal police were quick to respond, taking the speargun into evidence and launching an investigation.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, loggerhead turtles are currently listed as vulnerable and hawksbill turtles are critically endangered. These images highlight how not only plastic but other human activities threaten these endangered creatures.
Jess Williams, Marine Conservation Biologist and Director of Tartarugas Para o Amanhã/ Mozturtles, said: “Despite legal protection for sea turtles within Mozambique, illegal take is still widespread. Small scale fisheries (SSF) are extensive throughout coastal waters along Mozambique’s entire 2,700 km coastline, which happens to be the habitat for five of the seven species of sea turtles. Sadly, targeted hunting by spear-fishers and opportunistic by-catch is an ongoing problem and we believe hunting pressures on sea turtles may be increasing.”
According to Mozturtles, October to February is nesting season for loggerhead turtles from Bazaruto Archipelago south to Ponta do Ouro Marine Partial Reserve. During this time, there is likely to be an increase of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) moving into coastal waters to lay their eggs as they migrate back into the area.
“It’s particularly concerning to see animals in this life-stage facing threats such as targeted hunting, bycatch or entanglement,” Williams continued. “Turtles reach maturity around 20-30 years of age and each female lays approximately four nests in the season so mature individuals being removed from the breeding stock causes significant problems to turtle populations.
“It’s crucial that efforts are made to accurately quantify the impacts of SSF here in Mozambique, and in other countries in the region, to enable us to accurately understand the scale of the threat to sea turtles at a regional level.”
Mariana Coelho, MMF’s Mozambique Country Director, said: “We were all shocked and saddened to find these two injured turtles in the bay within minutes of each other. Thanks to the quick responses of the volunteers and staff on the boat, these beautiful animals were able to be rescued and released back into the ocean. We expect they will now visit a cleaning station to prevent infection in their open wounds and hope both animals will recover fully.
Coelho continued: “It’s important to remember that acts like this, while shocking, are driven by extreme poverty. That’s why MMF is working to raise awareness among the local community about the importance of marine conservation as well as helping fisher families to find new, sustainable ways of generating a livelihood. We hope the police will be successful in their mission to find out who can be held accountable, that the community continues their incredible efforts in changing harmful habits and appeal to the general public for support in our work to protect our oceans from acts such as these.”
MMF works with the local community in Tofo, and neighboring communities, to help them improve sustainable fishing practices and ocean conservation. The charity’s vision is a world in which marine life and humans thrive together and they aspire to attain it by saving threatened marine life.
For more information about MMF and how you can support, please visit: www.marinemegafauna.org.