At the center of the Valencia aquarium, the biggest in Europe, researchers from Fundación Oceanogràfic discovered that marine turtles that are caught in fishemen’s nets were victims of decompression accidents (ADD). A hyperbaric chamber was specially developed for them.
In April 2016, the Fundación Oceanogràfic installed a clinic and research center at the heart of the oceanographic park in Valencia. The Avanqua society, which manages aquariums including Valencia’s – Europe’s biggest with over 1.4 million visitors each year, finances the foundation with a budget of up to 700,000 Euro each year.
“Our research works concern animal health and well-being, conservation, studies in biodiversity and the identification of environmental changes,” highlights Consuselo Rubio-Guerri, biologist at the foundation. “These are our primary areas of work, but all of our projects are driven by animal well-being. We are four researchers strengthened by students of the department.“
Biologists are carrying out research work on marine mammals. The researchers implement programs following the migratory movements of sun fish and marine turtles by satellite. They also study the impact of anthropogenic sounds on cetaceans which work on the reproduction of eels. But since the creation of the center, marine turtles remain at the heart of the foundation’s daily operations.
The Mediterranean sea is a real nursery for young turtles who seek refuge here in numbers. Approximately 45% of the young loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean come from the Atlantic ocean. It also welcomes adults in spring and summer.
The loggerhead turtles feed themselves in the Alboran sea, between Spain and the coasts of Maghreb, and the Adriatic sea. The principal egg-laying location remains Greece, with more than 3,000 nests identified every year. But with global warming new hatching places are being found in the Western Mediterranean, notably in Spain. Loggerhead turtles, whose population is estimated to be around 20,000 across the 500km area in the district of Valencia, often fall victim to fisherman. A recent study showed that turtles caught in nets are subject to decompression when they are brought up and on board fishing boats. “We have gone to great efforts to raise awareness among fisherman,” explains Consuelo Rubio-Guerri. Until not long ago, they threw any turtles caught in their nets straight back in the sea without realizing, and without knowing, that they were condemning them to their deaths.”
A decompression chamber for turtles
The Oceanographic Foundation has put up a special number and comes and gets tortoises who have been accidentally caught once they have returned to the port. Once taken to the diagnostics center, the turtles are brought back down to the correct depth artificially thanks to a decompression chamber specially-developed for them.
“We inject it with compressed oxygen. The turtles stay in there for around two and half hours. We get to save most of them.“
For the past two years, the foundation has saved about a hundred of tortoises each year, with a peak of attendance in February and March where the center can receive up to about a hundred tortoises.
But the problems of the turtles, due to interactions with men, don’t stop there. During autopsies, the researchers found that they would ingest a bigger volume of plastic. Another danger, in summer, during hatching season, the increased popularity of people visiting beaches means eggs lain at night are increasingly put in danger. “Out of one thousand eggs, on average two turtles will reach adulthood… “