Who are the experts?
Why support this project?
Wildlife Vets International has a unique conservation model.Rather than running our own projects we provide specialist skills and knowledge to those who have dedicated their lives to front line conservation.
Specialist veterinary skills and knowledge is not needed full time on a single project. But that knowledge does need to be accessible to those making decisions on how best to conserve our wildlife.
In terms of turtle rehabilitation, there are some centres of excellence constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know. There are many others who are doing an excellent job on a shoestring and without much specialist knowledge in the husbandry and medicine of sea turtles. The vets they use might be recent graduates or local domestic animal vets with little experience in marine reptiles.
Wildlife Vet International provide a veterinary team that has the right expertise to support these rescue centres. The team will provide on the job veterinary and medical training and advice on how to better their facilities.
This support does not disappear when the veterinary team is not there, they are available for the Rescue Centre staff to message about difficult cases.
Introducing our turtle team
Veterinarian Tania Monreal works for the International Zoo Veterinary Group (IZVG) and actually volunteered at the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre as a new graduate alongside conservation projects and zoos in Finland, Argentina,Mexico, and the US before returning to Spain and working for Barcelona Zoo. She has worked full time for IZVG since 2015.
Tania has a huge amount of experience with sea turtles in captivity, getting them healthy and fit enough for release and encouraging post release monitoring of rehabilitated turtles to advise best practice during rehabilitation.
Vet Nurse Matt Rendle is the Nursing Manager and Exotic Referrals vet for Holly House Vets. Prior to Holly House Vets he was Senior Clinical Nurse at ZSLLondon Zoo. He has worked in numerous places around the world in zoological,conservation and wildlife veterinary facilities and has been lucky enough to have nursed most species from ants to elephants.
Matt’s passion is reptiles and birds and he brings a wealth of practical knowledge for improving the day to day health and welfare of turtles in the rescue centres as well as being very experienced support for clinicians during surgery.
Together they make a formidable team, always having the conservation of the species as the ultimate goal, whilst improving the health and welfare of individuals along the way.
WVI provides them with a grant to ensure that their expertise is available in a timely fashion to help with these threatened species.
The threat from marine plastics
Europe is the second largest plastic producer in the world,after China. Every year we dump as much as 500,000 tonnes of macroplastics (bags, balloons, bottle and six pack rings etc.) and as much as 130,010 tonnes of microplastics (microbeads found in cleaning cosmetic products, fibres from synthetic materials etc) into the sea, mainly the Mediterranean. Visiting tourists are responsible for an estimated 40% increase in litter each summer.
All the turtles that are rescued have plastic in their stomachs. Be it microplastics, through to identifiable plastic cups or labels to water bottles, that may pass through or cause such a tangle that the blockages can hinder normal feeding behaviours and digestion leading to starvation, disease and ultimately death.
Not only can plastics contain concentrations of toxic compounds as much as a million times greater than those naturally found in seawater, but plastic is known to release 30 times more contaminants once it moves into living tissue, like the intestines of a turtles (WWF, 2018).
We don’t know yet the effect these toxins have on the physiology.
The injuries do vary between the rescue centres. Fundacion CRAM see a lot of turtles with entanglement, drowning and decompression sickness. Discarded fishing gear is responsible for the majority of entanglements, with hundreds of tonnes being lost, abandoned or discarded annually. Turtles have been found entangled in plastic sacks, twine, polythene sheeting, plastic chairs, plastic packaging straps, balloon strings and sic pack rings for example (Duncan etal. 2017).
The majority of experts surveyed by Duncan et al. (2017) believe that the entanglement is likely to be having a population level effect on turtle species rather than remaining an issue primarily of welfare, although there is not yet sufficient evidence available to confirm definitively that this is the case.
Turtles also get caught in active nets and if dragged underwater for sufficient time will drown (acupuncture can reverse this. T.Monreal pers.com.) and get decompression sickness if brought up too quickly. Fundacion CRAM have a decompression chamber that they put turtles in.
A small section of the fishing community in Greece believe that the turtles compete with them for fish and so will bludgeon them if they catch one. These head injuries are the most serious cases that ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, alongside injuries from boats.
Find out more about marine plastics in our briefing document here.
For both organisations, rehabilitation of turtles is part of their wider conservation work, working with stakeholder communities to reduce the threats.
Rescued turtles provide a window into the health issues facing wild turtles
We aim, through our support of the rescue centres, to learn more about health threats to turtles and feed that back into the conservation actions for turtles.
Please help us continue our support and research by donating before midday 10 December to get the most out of your gift.
Duncan, E. et al. (2017) A global review of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris: a baseline for further action. Endangered Species Research 34:431-448