New partnership to save sea turtles from ingested plastics and entanglement with marine waste - Veterinary Practice
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New partnership to save sea turtles from ingested plastics and entanglement with marine waste

Collaboration will ensure as many rescued turtles as possible can be returned to the sea, with the potential to contribute to the survival of their species

On 16 June, World Sea Turtle Day, Animal Friends Insurance has donated £37,910 to Wildlife Vets International (WVI) to help three threatened turtle species – the endangered green turtle, the vulnerable loggerhead turtle and the vulnerable leatherback turtle. The partnership will support current and future sea turtle welfare, education and conservation efforts.

WVI will be providing specialist veterinary training, advice and support to three turtle rescue and rehabilitation centres: Fundación CRAM in Barcelona (Spain), ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Athens (Greece) and Local Ocean Conservation just outside Malindi, Kenya. The collaboration will ensure as many rescued turtles as possible can be returned to the sea, with the potential to contribute to the survival of their species.

At least 10 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. That is the equivalent of a rubbish truck load every minute. In the coming decades, plastic production is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2030 and triple by 2050. By then, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Getting entangled in plastic, or accidentally eating it, is an everyday risk for sea turtles and the consequences can be painful, long lasting and sometimes fatal. An increasing number of young adult turtles are being treated at rehabilitation centres. It is thought that young adults are more pelagic in their behaviour – spending more time in the open sea – and so are more likely to become entangled in discarded plastic waste and fishing gear.

Over the next 18 months, with the support of Animal Friends, WVI will be providing bespoke specialist training by veterinary professionals who are highly experienced in turtle medicine, husbandry and welfare. Whilst on site, the vets will discuss cases with the staff, look at protocols – such as those for pain relief, tube feeding and taking bloods – as well as considering how the available facilities might be better used. External temperature and UV levels influence turtles’ metabolism to a much greater extent than is typically assumed – these are parameters that are difficult to regulate and accommodate in rescue centres that don’t have funds to spend on artificial environments and filtration systems. The team will provide advice that best optimises the resources that the centres have available to them.

Any clinical work will be carried out under the responsibility of a local vet, as is the law in most countries. Many will not be reptile specialists, so it will be just as important to provide them with the support they need as it is to train the centre staff. Between visits, the team will provide remote support and specialist multivitamins (Aquavits) and emergency nutrition (Lafeber Critical Care Formula) to all the centres being supported.

Westley Pearson, Chief Executive Officer, Animal Friends, said: “Animal Friends not only supports welfare and conservation efforts that have an immediate and positive impact, but also sustainable educational programmes. This ensures the welfare of animals and their ecosystems well into the future.

“The vets and staff at these three centres will benefit directly from the specialist knowledge made available to them by the wonderful team from WVI. The turtles will benefit from immediate recovery support, providing a better long-term outlook, enabling them to thrive in their ecosystems.”

Olivia Walter, Executive Director, Wildlife Vets International, said: “We are delighted that Animal Friends is going to be supporting the work of our Turtle Team. It means that marine vet Tania Monreal and vet nurse Matthew Rendle will be able to travel to the rehabilitation centres as soon as restrictions allow.

“It’s been almost two years since they were able to get to ARCHELON, for example, and a visit is now well overdue. Of course, they’ve been able to support them remotely, advising on cases and providing nutritional supplements over the last year, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face training and demonstration. It’s vital that they can see how the facilities have changed since their last visit, in order to assess how they can best support the centres going forward.

“It also means that they will be able to make a first visit to Kenya too – where Local Ocean Conservation has been waiting for help since before the pandemic. We are looking forward very much to working with Animal Friends in the months ahead and sharing stories of the turtles that Matt and Tania will be helping save.”

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