Local fishermen Steve Happ and his friend Philip Dwyer came across the turtle in rope attached to a float about a kilometre off Arorangi.
Happ said the turtle seemed to have been trapped in the bale of rope for over a year.
“When we first saw the float, we ignored it because we didn’t see any rope attached to it but the float caught our attention when it started moving and bobbing down and up in the water,” Happ said.
“That’s when we realised there must be something caught up in the float. At first we thought it was a fish but when we got closer we realised it was a turtle.
“The rope in its front right flipper was about an inch into its flesh. The flesh was growing around the rope so it must have been entangled for more than a year or so.”
With Dwyer’s help, Happ managed to cut loose the rope, granting the poor turtle, which probably must have swum from miles away, the freedom it was longing for.
Happ reckons the float and the rope belonged to a commercial fishing vessel.
“These commercials vessels should bring the materials they no longer use to the shore and dispose them properly instead of throwing them overboard,’ he said.
“Sometimes their carelessness can lead to incidents that can harm marine species.”
MMR inspected the material the turtle was tangled into on Wednesday and concluded that the four millimeter Duradan rope and float were most likely used for an artisanal (small-scale) deep water fishing rig.
It was likely to have been used to catch fish such as snapper, before being lost or discarded at sea, the ministry added in a statement.
Senior fisheries officer Sonny Tatuava said a copper wire marker on the rope indicated it was used in a type of fishing not practiced in the Cook Islands, but common in the Western Pacific.
“MMR has a National Action Plan for Sea Turtle Mitigation and strict licensing conditions and fishing gear requirements are applied to commercial fishing vessels. Local fishers are also encouraged to retain all fishing gear on board their boats,” the statement said.
“Entanglement in marine debris is a global problem affecting at least 200 species and can cause decreased swimming ability, disruption in feeding, life-threatening injuries, and death.”
MMR said four species of turtle were known to exist in the fishery waters of the Cook Islands.
The most common one, it said, was the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) which nests in the more sparsely populated outer islands.
“The less common hawksbill turtle (Eretmochlelys imbricata) is also known to nest in some areas and there have been rare reports of loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) sightings.
“Satellite tracking technology has also tracked leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) transiting the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from French Polynesia through to Fiji.”