The sea turtle is one of the most fascinating and less known animals in the Mediterranean. There are seven species of sea turtle worldwide and three of them can be found in the Mediterranean: the Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), which is the most common ; the Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas).
Sea turtles are a migratory species who travel the ocean looking for the best spots to feed, breed and lay their eggs. They are increasingly threatened by human factors like maritime traffic and coastal development, which reduces nesting areas. The many different habitats they cross during their migrations only multiplies the risks and threats that turtles face.
The Association Marineland founded the “Centre de Réhabilitation de la Faune Sauvage” (Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife). The center opened its doors in July 2017 and is located at the Juan les Pins Maritime and Coastal Area in Antibes. Its activities focus on protecting sea turtles found wounded out at sea or stranded on the beaches of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var regions.
A specialized veterinarian team from Marineland park takes care of the turtles and rehabilitates then so that they can be returned to the sea when their physical and health states allows it. These conservation efforts take shape under the supervision of the RTMMF (Réseau des Tortues Marines de Méditerranée ; “Mediterranean Sea Turtle Network” in English).
The center is managed and financed by the Association Marineland, which brings specialized personnel (biologists and veterinarians) from Marineland. Turtles showing difficulties are sheltered and treated in this center until they are released in their natural habitat. With three 1,000-liter deposits and a 17 m3 main pool , the center can host up to 5 turtles at a time.
Through the ObsTortueMed program, the Association Marineland makes a commitment to work with the national stranding network (R.T.M.M.F., Réseau Tortues Marines de Méditerranée Française) for the conservation of sea turtles.
The ObsTortueMed program consists of three parts:
This is an observation campaign based in the concept of citizen’s science. Between 45 and 140 sightings have been recorded since 2012, proving the presence, abundance and geographic distribution of these three species of sea turtle in the French Riviera. The Association Marineland launched two aerial surveillance campaigns in 2015 and 2017 that have strengthened this observation effort.
The Association Marineland is in charge of performing the autopsies on the turtles that are dead at sea and on the coasts of Alpes-Maritimes and Var. This task allows the identification of the cause of death in more detail, as well as the threats that affect this protected species. In the framework of a European guideline, the center does systematic sampling to improve its database and to participate in scientific studies like studying the genetics of local populations, skeletochronology and the analysis of digestive contents.
When the animals arrive, Marineland veterinarian give their diagnostic and define what treatment should be administered. When a care period is over, all turtles are identified with an electronic micro-transmitter. This allows the center to track the animal’s movements in case it ever needs to be rescued again. Sailing on the Haizea, the Association Marineland’s boat, the animals are returned to their natural habitat, beyond all nautical and fishing activities in Antibes.
Since its inauguration, the C.R.F.S. has cared for 8 individuals, of which seven could be returned to the wild. The eighth turtle is still under the care of the experts at the C.R.F.S.
Hope, our first patient, arrived at the center showing a serious bite on the right thoracic fin. Thanks to the an X-rays assessment, all harm to the bone was ruled out. She received an antibiotic treatement, along with a weekly laser therapy, so that tissues would regenerate and scar faster.
Lucky and Hooky were victims of longline hook fishing. Once the hooks were removed, Lucky needed three months to dispose of a 2,7 meter longline, which was only possibly thanks to a diet enriched with paraffin oil.
Léopold is a young turtle who was stuck in the cold currents at the end of the winter. When he arrived at the center, he was in a state of hypothermia. Little by little, he managed to regain body temperature and reach a normal metabolic activity.
Speculoos is a hatchling who was stranded on the beach just between the tidelines, after a storm. With a weight of only 180 grams, he received specialized care and daily supervision, which included the food portions and weight control. He also received a complete treatment to prevent any bacterial infection, parasite or fungi. Once he had doubled his weight, he was released into the sea.
Kim is the miracle of the rehabilitation center. She arrived with several traumatic fractures to the skull, probably caused by an impact with a ship’s propeller. She was found floating motionless. An emergency scan ruled out any suspicion of cerebral and sinus damage. However, a perforation to her palate extended her convalescence. Once she could eat again, she quickly adapted to the loss of vision on her left eye. Kim could return to the sea after she had recovered 10 kg.
Ambre ended up trapped in a fishermen’s net. She didn’t show any side effect from her misadventure, but she stayed in observation for a week before returning to the sea. Since the touristic season was over, her return to the wild could be performed from the beach as volunteers, fishermen and passersby watched.
Finally, Ana, the eighth patient, arrived at the center covered by 3 kilos of barnacles that prevented her from moving freely. She received full examinations: X-rays, sonogram, gastroscopy, bronchoscopy et colonoscopy. This is how the experts at the center could identify a respiratory infection and could remove a piece of plastic from her colon which had a diameter of 20 cm.
Sensitization campaigns have enabled a tight collaboration between the CRFS and the members of the stranding network, as well as a relationship of trust with all sea professionals. These ties are crucial. Each actor’s engagement and contribution allows for a faster intervention and for the ability to care for these animals with many more chances of succeeding.
The observation campaign’s reports that are published each year describe the actions undertaken on site, enrich the knowledge within the network, and allow all the actors to better design species conservation policies.
As of today, ObsTortueMed has allowed the C.R.F.S. to identify three main threats that are also characteristic of this touristic and highly-urbanized region: collision with boats, accidental fishing and trash ingestion.