GPS Tracks Endangered Sea Turtles On Med Odyssey

Conservationists have been tracking this endangered loggerhead sea turtle on its epic odyssey across the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece where it spent six months before beginning its long swim back.

The 100-kilogramme (220-lb) loggerhead sea turtle was fitted with a tracking device after it was rescued in 2019 when it became trapped in fishing nets off the coast of Spain.

It was then released back into the sea last year after 12 months of treatment and after having reached the shores of Greece and spending six months there.

The reptile has now turned around and appears to be heading back towards the Spanish coast.

The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) had become trapped in a fishing net in the waters off Valencia in eastern Spain in 2019. It was suffering from an air embolism believed to have been caused by the nets rapidly dragging it out of the water and was taken to facilities belonging to the Valencia Oceanographic Foundation.

The female turtle, named Colomera by the vets looking after her, had already been in a similar situation before.

Miguel Gamero Esteban, 40, a biologist working at the Azul Marino Foundation (Deep Blue Foundation), told Real Press that she was trapped in a fishing net in 2015 and was released a few months later.

This time, the situation was worse and the health condition of the animal, believed to be around 40 years old, meant that she needed a longer recovery time.

Finally, on 25th June 2020, Colomera was released back into the sea on Oropesa Beach in the Valencia region. This time, she had a GPS tracking device installed so conservationists could monitor her.

Since then, they have been following her movements and the oceanographic foundation has now confirmed that it only took her two months to reach the Greek coast.

She remained there for six months and is now heading back West, roughly following the same route.

After leaving the beach of Oropesa, she travelled to the Columbretes Islands and arrived in the Balearic Islands before swimming onto the coast of Palma de Majorca.

According to the satellite data, in July she was in the Strait of Sicily between Tunisia and Sicily.

Her route showed that she continued towards Greece and spent a lot of time in the Gulf of Kyparissia in the western area of the Peloponnese Peninsula where she remained for six months until she decided to head back to Sicily, stopping in the Strait of Messina this time.

Gamero Esteban said: “It seems that she tried to go around Sicily at a different location but she seems to have thought twice about it and has now changed course towards the same route she took the first time around.”

Colomera is currently in Maltese waters, but according to the biologist “with the background she has, everything points to her going back to the Valencian coast”.

So far, she has travelled thousands of miles, although the exact number is unclear as she has spent a lot of time in Greece, swimming around its coast.

However, the biologist said that this species are “great migrators and she could even end up crossing the Strait of Gibraltar” and heading out into the Atlantic Ocean.

She is believed to be large enough to manage this, taking on the strong currents that the Strait of Gibraltar is known for.

Colomera has travelled alone, as is common among her species. Gamero Esteban explained that “they only meet during the mating season”.

Regarding the migration habits of loggerhead turtles, the biologist said that they are great migrators and that they commonly change location depending on the water temperature and sunlight, and they are always on the lookout for areas where there is food as well as places where they can mate and breed.

Loggerhead sea turtles are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List. They face numerous threats these days, especially due to human activity. The biologist said that they are greatly affected by plastic waste found in the seas and oceans.

He said that it is not uncommon for them to die trapped in marine waste made up of plastics, ropes, and fishing nets. They also swallow pieces of plastic which is often synonymous with a death sentence.

Other threats include light pollution which affects the hatching process and accidental fishing.

But there is a glimmer of hope as Gamero Esteban said they have recently recorded a slight increase in the number of eggs being laid on Spain’s eastern coast. He said that 10 nests have been recorded in the last nesting season.

The biologist said that this situation is not common, as the normal nesting area is in the eastern Mediterranean, but this year the situation has been “surprising”, probably because the water temperature off Spain has increased and this has “caused more animals to arrive on our shores”.