Getting caught up on fishing nets is one of the biggest killers of sea turtles, says Te Ara O Te Onu Cook Islands.
This week the Cook Islands Turtle Conservation Society was notified of an incident in Vaimaanga where a turtle got stuck in a fishing net in the lagoon.
“Please if you are fishing in the lagoon remember that sea turtles and other marine life travel inside the lagoon, and if you use a line net, please check it regularly,” says the President of the Turtle Conservation Society president Julie Tamaariki.
Tamaariki said a friend of theirs was swimming in the area and managed to release a turtle that was caught in a line finishing net.
This was the first time they were notified of such an incident.
“We were actually on site just after and watched the guys bringing in the net and removing the fish off the line, which ran straight out from the beach towards the reef, we have not seen this before in Rarotonga,” she said.
Turtles getting caught in fishing nets and bycatches from commercial fishing is one of the main reasons for the decline in sea turtle numbers in Rarotonga.
“Especially in Vaimaanga we have a good number of hawksbill sea turtles which are critically endangered, so anything we can do to help conserve them is vital,” Tamaariki said.
She said simple education regarding fishing methods and awareness is crucial.
“The main points here are that turtles need air to breathe; many people don't realise this. They use their air over a period of time, up to seven hours, which is when they are at rest, however a stressed and moving turtle will use its air much quicker.”
She said now more people are fishing in the lagoon and they have observed more loose fishing lines in the lagoon.
These lines get caught in turtle’s flippers, and this in time can self-amputate from cutting off vital supplies to the limb.
Male turtles need both front limbs to mate so if the turtle is a male it is unable to mate.
“There have been declining numbers of male sea turtles due to climate change and rising sand temperatures and this doesn't bode well for the future of the sea turtle populations,” she said.
“So, anything we can do to help is super important.”
She called on the public to not discard fishing lines into the lagoon.
“If a line net is to be used, it should be checked regularly for marine life as sea turtles and other marine life travel around the lagoon to feed. Fishing hooks are also a killer - don't leave hooks in the lagoon,” Tamaariki said.
“Reduce plastic use and waste, say no to plastic. Pick up any plastic you see on the beach, take your litter home. Much of what we see are smaller plastics, bottle caps and these are the ones that the sea turtles ingest.”