Rose sets off towards the open sea in eastern Tunisia. This twenty-year-old turtle has just left a unique place in the Maghreb which offers a second chance to life. his species, threatened by overfishing, pollution and climate change.
More than a month ago, she got caught in fishing nets before being taken to the “First Aid Center for Marine Turtles” in Sfax (center-east), member of the European “Life Med Turtles” program, one of two of this type in Tunisia with that of Monastir (east).
In North Africa, these are the only care establishments for the Loggerhead turtle, or Caretta Caretta by its scientific name, the most widespread species in the Mediterranean and one of the most at risk.
Besides the care of injured turtles which, like Rose, can stay there for a month or more, the Center follows, with tags, their migratory movements, and strives to raise awareness among the local populations of the Gulf of Gabès, dependent on fishing. /p>
A turtle 'a protected species is released on the coast of Sfax, in east-central Tunisia, on October 15, 2023 © AFP – IMED HADDAD
“Before, we were ignorant. People ate (turtles), used them for witchcraft or as medicine. Today, thanks to the awareness of fishermen, it has more chances of surviving and protecting our ecosystem,” explains Hamadi Dahech, a 29-year-old fisherman, watching his protégé Rose, whom he saved in September, move away from the shore.
– Trapped –
At least 10,000 Caretta Caretta are caught every year in fishermen's nets in the Gulf of Gabès, a sign of the strong presence of this species in the area, despite intense industrial and chemical activity.
Spectators watch a turtle of a protected species being released on the coast of Sfax, in east-central Tunisia, on October 15, 2023 © AFP – IMED HADDAD
The Life Med Turtles program which covers five Mediterranean countries (Albania, Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey) has highlighted a very high mortality rate, of 70%, linked to gillnets – suspended vertically from floats – where the turtles find themselves trapped.
Now, at the Sfax Care Center, it is often fishermen who bring injured Caretta Caretta, recognizable by their enormous heads.
Some take the name of their saviors like Hamadi, a 46 kg male over 20 years old, who has just arrived, or Ayoub, a fragile baby turtle, fed with a syringe by caregivers.
Since the creation of the center in the summer of 2021, nearly 80 turtles have been treated there before being released into the sea, explains Imed Jribi, head of the First Aid Center.
A turtle of a protected species is released on the coast of Sfax, in east-central Tunisia, on October 15, 2023 © AFP – IMED HADDAD
“We take samples for scientific research and treat the turtles to protect them. Then we return them to their natural environment,” he says.
According to him, the center has three objectives: protection, research and awareness, this is why it “is open to all, researchers, high school students and students.”
– “Harmful” for health –
This week -end there, Malak Morali, a 30-year-old mother, participates with her two children in an awareness-raising operation organized by Mr. Jribi.
A turtle from 'a protected species is prepared for release on the coast of Sfax, in east-central Tunisia, on October 15, 2023 © AFP – IMED HADDAD
“Every time he hears that there will be turtles, he wants to come take photos and learn new things,” emphasizes Malak, about his little boy who photographs Rose from every angle.
< p>Thanks to this campaign, Malak learned that turtle flesh is “harmful” to your health. “We used to say that once cooked, it was good but it's the opposite,” she says.
Due to heavy pollution of their habitat, the Caretta Caretta absorb toxic metals like mercury, which can harm human health.
Turtles are also very threatened by plastic pollution, “because they confuse plastic bags with jellyfish”, which they love, according to Hamed Mallat, researcher in marine biology.
A turtle of a protected species is equipped of a beacon before being released on the coast of Sfax, in east-central Tunisia, on October 15, 2023 © AFP – IMED HADDAD
Global warming, and the rise in sea temperatures that he causes, also represents a serious threat, “in particular for the imbalance it causes in the sexual ratio of turtles”, explains Hamed Mallat.
According to a study by the National Ocean Service (United States), if a turtle incubates its eggs below 27.7 degrees, it also produces males, but above 31 degrees, it will not lay eggs. only females, with a risk of extinction of the species.
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