Maradona, Eleanora, Dios and Zia Franca

Being part of Project M.A.R.E. means that we are part of a bigger network of conservationists and people trying to preserve nature and biodiversity. It has been the goal of the project since its creation: protecting the Posidonia meadows in the Bay of Ieranto from their mechanical destruction caused by boat anchoring. Based on that argument and under the banner of the MPA of Punta Campanella, we take part in activities regarding the conservation of marine turtles. We are part of the Tartarughe Marine in Campania network that takes care of the nesting season of marine turtles Caretta caretta in Campania and in Cilento specifically. On the other hand, this network takes also care of beached and turtles caught accidentally in fishermen’s gears, also called bycatch, which is one of the biggest problems for marine organisms. It is a catastrophe killing more than 250,000 marine turtles, more than 300,000 dolphins and small whales and more than 100M sharks.

Image from WWF

To reduce this phenomenon, fishermen are mostly targeted in campaigns and trainings to raise awareness. But most of the time, they are more aware of what’s happening around them in the sea. That’s why it has been and still is imperative for the MPA to build contacts and establish cooperation with them.

We were lucky to have had a phone call on January 7th from a fisherman in the golf of Salerno, a place well known to be a resting spot for marine turtles in winter, about two Caretta caretta turtles caught in his nets that morning. We immediately dispatched to the port of Salerno where we met Luigi Guida and Antonio Di Mai, the two captains that found the turtles. The turtles seemed to be in good health. It is a tradition for the one who finds the turtles to name them: One 50kg adult male named Maradona, of 64cm, and a smaller 30kg sub-adult, named Eleonora, of almost 50cm. It is necessary to keep them warm in winter as, like most reptiles, they run on a very slow metabolism, so keeping them cosy is necessary especially after all the effort that they do to liberate themselves from the nets.

That’s why they stayed the night at our mentor’s house and the morning after were taken to the turtle rescue centre in Portici, which is part of the Zoological Station Anton Dohrn of Naples, where they will get tested and have some health check-ups. They will also spend a few weeks in the rehabilitation basins to be sure that they don’t have any health issues. That’s when our job ends when we know that the animal is in good hands.

Our January proved to be very busy turtle-wise as on the 20th, we get a new call from the same fisherman, Captain Luigi again. We went to the port of Salerno on the same day of the call, where we also met the coastal guard and other fishermen. We were able to get our hands on a 62kg Caretta caretta male of 72cm given the name of Dios.

The animal was in good shape and was this time directly transported to the rescue centre that night. We met Dr. Andrea Affuso, a veterinarian from the Zoological Station who conducted an X-Ray on the turtle which came out clean but had some air bubbles in the kidney, which are caused by the sudden rise from the depth while caught in the net. The turtle will pass few weeks in the rehabilitation basins before being released once the veterinarians are sure it’s in good condition to be back in the water.

The French say that things come in threes and on February the 3rd that proved to be correct. We got a call again from the fishermen of the port of Salerno, this time from Captain Giulio Oliviero of the boat Zio Franco. It was about another Caretta caretta again the victim of bycatch, which was recuperated as they said in 50m deep, something extremely rare for turtles as generally, they rest in about 40m. This was a massive adult female turtle of around 77cm long, the biggest that we rescued in these two months, given the name of Zia Franca by captain Giulio. The fishermen told us that this one was too energetic and that it was moving the whole day in the boat, in comparison to the others where they very calm the whole process.

The same day after picking it up from Salerno, we took it directly to Portici, where we met Dr. Antonino Pane who immediately took care of the new guest. He took the morphological measurements that showed that it’s a 65kg female. We also took off the parasitic barnacles on her carapace. Later an X-RAY came out clear but also showed some small bubbles in the kidney. So the doctor immediately started her treatment.

One of the virtues of Project M.A.R.E. is this, having the opportunity to get an inside look at marine conservation efforts. This can only improve our perspective and our ecological thinking. In the end, we would like to thank all the people involved in this turtle rescuing effort, especially the fishermen of the golf of Salerno for their impeccable hospitality and care for the animal. Thanks to such individuals, we are able to help preserve endangered species. This shows how important it is to include fishermen and people of the sea otherwise marine conservation networks would never be as efficient as they are. We would also like to invite any fisherman to work with us and to connect with us in order to save and preserve the Mediterranean biodiversity.