The recent discovery of two dead loggerhead turtles by local environmental officers was a rare occurrence and is likely attributed to the sustained period of strong easterly winds experienced at the time, according to marine experts at the Department of the Environment and Climate Change (DECC).
Loggerhead turtles are relatively common to British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) particularly during the summer, when they are regularly sighted during migration. Last year alone, the Environmental Protection and Research Unit (EPRU) spotted over 20 Loggerhead turtles in BGTW.
But dead ones are few and far between.
Officers from DECC’s Environmental Protection and Research Unit recovered the turtles from Eastern Beach and Catalan Bay late last month.
One turtle possibly died from ingesting fishing gear used in long-line fishery, the other death indicated it died following a collision with a vessel.
On average the unit deals with “around five or six marine turtle strandings per year. In addition, we usually rescue two or three marine turtles every year.”
While the turtles washed ashore in Gibraltar, the incidents leading to their deaths may well have occurred outside BGTW, given the relatively small extent of these, said the unit.
However, further incidents like this or to other marine reptiles and cetaceans may be avoided if the speed of vessels navigating was decreased, the unit believes.
“The Cetacean Protection implemented under the Marine Protection Regulations 2014 goes a long way towards addressing this issue, particularly with recreational vessels that can actively pursue marine reptiles and/or cetaceans,” it said.
In addition, it believes that “fishing with nets and long-lines run the risk of turtle by-catch. Any additional controls on these activities, such as those implemented under the Nature Protection Act 1991, the Marine Protection Regulations 2014 and the Department’s EPRU will have a positive impact on marine turtles found within BGTW.”
Another way the turtles and the marine environment in general can be protected is by the reduction of plastic bags and plastics in the sea.
“Turtles are also known to be in danger of ingesting balloons and plastic bags which can often lead to death,” said the Unit.
While there is no suggestion that plastics had any role in the current two cases, DECC said it is currently working on reducing the use of plastic bags.
Lewis Stagnetto from the Nautilus Project, an organisation that is working with the DECC and is actively campaigning for a ban on plastic bags and microbeads and the reduction of plastics in Gibraltar.
“Nylon fishing lines or nets are ultimately plastic products, which is part of the harm plastics do to the marine environment”, he said.
“We need to look for alternatives to plastics globally and if plastics are used ensure they are environmentally friendly and biodegradable,” he added.
Previously the DECC buried a turtle they had found in order to get a skeleton.
These skeletal remains will be used by the department’s scientists for research and educational purposes.
While turtles were found dead in local waters, environmental campaigners and ornithologists in Spain have found numerous dead birds in the Bay of Gibraltar and the Strait of Gibraltar in recent days.
The groups speculate that the deaths may have been caused by a damaged underwater high voltage cable and oil pollution.
The birds, many of which had tarred bodies, will undergo an autopsy and to establish the cause of death.