19 August 2009

Fishing nets hurt sea turtles

This Olive Ridley turtle was rescued at Phuket with a missing flipper. The turtle appeared to have had netting around her neck at some stage, and a damaged eye.Seaweed growing on her carapace indicated she had been trapped in the net and unable to move for some time until her efforts to break free led to the loss of her flipper.

"Even small nets are dangerous for turtles. Phuket would have a much more varied and appealing marine system without them," said Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, of the Marine Environment Species Unit at Phuket's Marine Biology Centre, who treated the injured sea turtle.

Olive the Turtle Fights for Life on Phuket
Chutima Sidasathian, Phuket Wan 18 Aug 09
AN OLIVE Ridley turtle, rarely sighted on Phuket, came ashore at the southern beach of Naiharn yesterday as night fell, with its right front flipper missing.

Italian resident Raimondo was among those who were keen to help the stricken creature, a female estimated to be about two years old.

"It is so sad," he said, "to see such a beautiful creature hurt and suffering like this."

The likelihood is that the young turtle came off second best in an encounter with a fishing net, although there are fewer trawlers at sea during the monsoon season.

Green turtles are more regular visitors, although they too are no longer sighted as frequently as they once were.

Efforts are being made to release immature turtles in the hope that they might eventually begin breeding again on the island. However, lights and noise drive them away.

Parts of Mai Khao beach on the north of the island are still thought to be secluded enough for turtles to breed. Some still return to shore a little further north, in the neighboring province of Phang Nga, to deposit eggs in the sand.

Construction workers have been spotted, though, digging them up to eat.

While mock turtles decorate the beachfront in the island's main resort town of Patong, the only turtle seen there recently was, unfortunately, dead.

The Navy oversees a protected island in the Similans where turtle numbers are said to be steadily increasing, despite reports of illegal fishing nearby.

The stricken Olive Ridley turtle was placed in the care of Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, of the Marine Environment Species Unit at Phuket's Marine Biology Centre.

He said the turtle appeared to have had netting around her neck at some stage, and a damaged eye.

Seaweed growing on her carapace indicated she had been trapped in the net and unable to move for some time . . . until her efforts to break free led to the loss of her flipper.

Dr Kongkiat thinks that the turtle will be able to cope without the flipper, though, once she has a chance to recover.

Damaged limbs can be successfully reattached, but artificial flippers do not function well.

The Olive Ridley is the smallest of the species of turtles known in Phuket, and it is not sighted in other parts of Thailand.

"Even small nets are dangerous for turtles," Dr Kongkiat said. "Phuket would have a much more varied and appealing marine system without them."

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