By Dr. Christina Shaw, Veterinary Surgeon and founder and CEO of VESS
I was called to see an injured turtle yesterday. Some of the surfers at Pango found it and it was then taken to the vet clinic. It is a juvenile hawksbill marine turtle and was missing a front flipper. It also had nylon fishing line attached to the back of its carapace. I suspect what happened is that this poor turtle had a hole drilled in its shell and was tied up as a tourist attraction in Pango. We have had reports of this happening before. The most likely way for it to have lost its flipper is the fishing line attaching it to the shore and preventing it from swimming away got caught around its front flipper and strangulated its limb. The flipper was effectively cheese-wired off leaving a bone from its upper flipper the only piece of its flipper left. I can’t imagine how painful this must have been for the turtle. When we examined the turtle yesterday it was thin – we can’t tell if this is because it hasn’t eaten well since its injury or if it had insufficient food when it was captive. Probably the latter. The injury was not fresh, most likely several days to about a week old.
We treated the turtle with fluids to help rehydration it and rested it overnight. This morning it was taken to Havannah Harbour and released. We reported the incident to the Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) and will be sending them an incident report. We would like to have done more to treat and rehabilitate it before releasing it back into the wild but unfortunately we don’t have the facilities yet. It can take a long time to treat and rehabilitate reptiles. Sick turtles in wildlife hospitals in other countries can be in the facilities for several months before they are fit for release. Maybe one day we will have that capability in Vanuatu.
The turtle swan off reasonably strongly and was able to swim, surface for breath and dive. So we hope we have given it a small chance of survival. Although turtles need their flippers for swimming there have been many reports of turtles in the wild with flippers missing. Shark attacks can leave turtles with these sorts of injuries. So if this little guy does not succumb to infection and manages to find enough food to build up its strength again, it may be able to have a long life. Good luck little fella.
Nobody wants to see this sort of thing happen to a wild animal. It would not have happened if the turtle was not kept captive. It is illegal in Vanuatu and whatever people of the signs say it has no role in conservation of these threatened species. You can help stop this happening again: If you see any turtles in captivity report it to fisheries. The numbers are: 23119 or 5333340. We, at VESS, would also like to collect information of these issues so we can establish how much of a problem we have and can take measures to try to reduce it. So please let us know if you do see any captive or injured turtles or other wildlife. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Christina on 5510026.