“Call it CSI Turtle. In the Maldives, at the heart of the Indian Ocean, scores of turtles are being found with gashed or ripped-off flippers and deep scars in their shells. The cause is clear: the turtles are becoming ensnared in “ghost” fishing nets that have either have been lost or dumped,” reports Damian Carrington for the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
“The turtles that don’t drown are then attacked mercilessly by accomplices. The stumps of the turtles’ flippers show clear signs of being ripped off by sharks, while the shell damage points to a sharp implement: the beaks of birds and the claws of crabs. The nets themselves cut through the turtle’s flesh like cheesewire, leaving deep wounds.
But what the investigation has not yet established are the culprits behind the crime and the motive.
‘It’s OK to keep finding these turtles and keep stitching them up, but it’s just going to keep happening. So we need to try to find out why the nets are being lost,’ says Dr Jill Hudgins, a scientist from the Seamarc consultancy and employed by the Four Seasons resort on Landaa Giraavaru island.
The turtles are the Olive Ridley variety, which live in the open ocean, not the atolls and lagoons of the Maldives, and Maldivian fishermen don’t use nets, pointing the investigation abroad.
Hudgins’ team has now compiled a database of more than 40 net types, detailing the mesh size and the twine diameter, as well as the types of floats attached and other data like the labels on debris trapped in the net such as plastic bottles.
The evidence all points to trawler nets floating in from India and Sri Lanka, and a recent breakthrough was finding a net manufacturer’s label: Garware, an Indian company. Hudgins has now sent images of the nets and severely injured turtles to the company and awaits their reply.
‘We want to scare them a bit,’ she says, and then get their help in finding solutions.”