“Greenrock was surprised by the announcement to capture and relocate sea turtles from the Great Sound for May and June, it is certainly an interesting initiative, and one that raises some questions for consideration,” Greenrock Executive Director Jonathan Starling said.
Earlier this month the Government said that in “anticipation of intense boating activity in the Great Sound,” the America’s Cup Bermuda is “coordinating a temporary sea turtle relocation project,” in which “sea turtles will be netted based on methods used successfully for turtle tagging operations and temporarily relocated inside a purpose-built ocean enclosure” near the Aquarium in Flatts.
Mr Starling said, “Greenrock was surprised by the announcement to capture and relocate sea turtles from the Great Sound for May and June. It is certainly an interesting initiative, and one that raises some questions for consideration.
“We recognise the reasoning behind the action. We are hopeful that this action will, indeed, reduce the potential for sea turtles to be injured or killed during the heightened marine activity of the America’s Cup. If it even saves one turtle that otherwise would have been killed, that’s great.
“Despite this, there are questions that need to be asked.
- 1] Is it feasible to capture all of the turtles residing in or frequenting the Great Sound? While we believe they will be able to relocate substantial numbers of turtles, we question the feasibility of capturing all of the turtles. We hope that the boating public will still exercise caution in the Great Sound. The Great Sound is the turtle’s home, not ours.
- 2] There are ecological considerations about keeping a concentrated number of turtles in a much smaller enclosure. These animals are going to go from the Great Sound to an enclosure being built in Harrington Sound behind the Aquarium. This will see a sudden increase of nutrients in the area which could change the ecological dynamics there. Spotted eagle rays are also known to frequent the area of the proposed enclosure – how will they be affected?
- 3] There are welfare considerations about keeping a concentrated number of turtles in a much smaller enclosure to what they’re familiar with. There is a risk of increased disease in such a situation – particularly fibropapillomatosis, a form of highly contagious tumours. There is a risk of turtles hurting each other from bites out of aggression, and general health concerns arising from the stress of being held in captivity.
- 4] While there is some sea grass in the area where we understand they will be located, the quantity and quality is insufficient for a large number of turtles for two months; their diet will have to be supplemented by other foods. While we trust the animal husbandry skills of the workers involved, we note that [i] the quality of food will be less than ideal compared to their natural diet; and [ii] there is the risk of the turtles associating humans with food. This may lead to problems for turtles after their release.
- 5] What security measures are being implemented to protect the now corralled turtles from harassment by persons visiting Harrington Sound?
- 6] Is there a Plan B should the proposed enclosure prove inadequate?
- 7] Seagrass meadows depend on grazing to ensure their ecological dynamism. In Bermuda the green turtles are the primary grazer of this habitat, maintaining a food-web which also supports key fisheries. When seagrass is left ungrazed it loses its nutritional quality, and can even succumb to slime moulds, leading to a collapse of the seagrass meadow itself. While we’re talking only two months, there is the potential for the removal of most grazers from this habitat to have a significant impact on the ecosystem.
- 8] It’s not clear to us how removing the existing turtles will prevent immigration of turtles outside of the Great Sound. While this potentially mitigates the consequence of removing this key grazer from the meadows, it doesn’t resolve the first problem of turtles risking injury or death during the America’s Cup.
- 9] Fundamentally this issue raises some interesting ethical questions. While saving the lives of the Great Sound turtles is no doubt a positive, are there other risks to their welfare [and the welfare of the wider ecosystem] in both the short and long term? What right do we have to forcibly relocate a wild animal from their natural habitat and force them into an enclosure for a period of time, even if we’re doing it for their own safety, for the sake of a human sporting event?
“Greenrock welcomes any steps to protect Bermuda’s biodiversity.
“Our hope is that the turtles will be fine and any concerns of ours won’t happen. We also hope that this raises awareness about Bermuda’s sea turtles and encourages longer term policies, business practices and consumer behaviours that will lead to a sustainable tourism sector and protects our biodiversity.
“One key policy and consumer behaviour that will really provide long-term benefits to sea turtles is to reduce the amount of plastic entering the sea, such as single-use plastic bags. Plastic bags are readily mistaken as food by sea turtles, which can lead to their death. Saving a few turtles from boat collisions is welcome – but if we want to make a lasting impact on protecting our sea turtles, we need to shift away from disposable plastic.
“We would also like to remind people that if they find a sick or injured turtle, please contact the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo right away.”