This post is one of a series on projects supported by the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the ocean.
TREE Foundation and Wildseas have collaborated since 2012, sharing experience and best practices and developing effective conservation strategies for sea turtles and marine mammals. MCAF helped support the reconstruction of TREE Foundation’s turtle rescue and rehabilitation center after it was heavily damaged during a typhoon in 2016. MCAF has helped support the work of John Flynn and his Wildseas team who are collaborating with fishermen to release sea turtles safely from fishing nets in Ghana.
Most people have heard the term ‘‘ghost nets,’’ but not everyone knows what it means. Ghost nets are old fishing gear, which can be nets, pots, ropes or traps, that are either intentionally left in the ocean or get lost accidentally. Either way, they pose a huge threat to marine life and are responsible for the death of thousands, if not millions, of marine animals each year. Because such gear is frequently unseen as it sinks below the water surface we tend to forget it exists. But the truth is it does. And in huge quantities. Because fishing gear is made to be strong and durable, it lasts in the oceans for decades, possibly longer. We just don’t know for sure how long. Ghost nets not only kill marine animals, they can also maim those animals unfortunate enough to come across one as they go about their lives in the ocean. We would like to introduce you to one such victim. Here is Navi, and this is her story.
Navi is an olive ridley sea turtle approximately 2 to 3 years old. She stranded on a beach near Chennai on the southeast coast of India earlier this month and was brought to the attention of MCAF grantee Dr. Supraja Dharini, Founder and Trustee of TREE Foundation India.
From Navi’s condition, it was very clear she had been entangled in some fishing gear and it had done a lot of damage to the soft flesh around both her shoulders. Navi was immediately taken to a specialist veterinarian who has a lot of experience working with injured turtles. There it was confirmed that gangrene had set in on her left flipper, but thankfully not on the right flipper. To try and save her life, the only thing to do was amputate the infected flipper. They say a picture tells a thousand words. Little Navi survived the operation and is now being intensively cared for as she starts the slow process of healing her right shoulder. A turtle’s flippers are just like human arms, they do not grow back. If Navi pulls through, then some day she will be able to return to the ocean even with one flipper missing.
Life is incredibly challenging for marine life, caused in no small part by what we as humans have thrown into the ocean. It is no secret that our oceans are slowly turning into one big plastic soup. Not so long back, MCAF Fellow John Flynn (Wildseas) received a juvenile green sea turtle from a local person after it had stranded on the beach in the western region of Ghana. John and his team spent six months clearing all the plastic that had accumulated in the turtle. Some of you may remember Billy. Eventually, Billy was released back to the ocean to start afresh.
Navi and Billy have both faced life-threatening effects of human pollution early in their lives. In the natural order, Navi should live about 60 years and Billy about 90 years. Our actions have upset that order, and we have a collective responsibility to restore that order. Every action has a consequence. We should take the time to think twice before buying something that will be today’s novelty and tomorrow’s trash. Do we really need that straw, plastic bag, or disposable coffee cup lid? We need to stop making the same mistakes again and again. As they say in the world of carpet fitting: measure twice, cut once.
TREE Foundation and Wildseas have collaborated since 2012, sharing experiences and practices and developing effective conservation strategies for sea turtles and marine mammals.