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Critically endangered turtle found dead

Thursday 10 March 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Local, National

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Critically endangered turtle found dead
PHOTO: AMERICAN OCEANS.ORG

The death of a critically endangered Hawksbill turtle is likely due to pollution in the Avatiu Harbour.

While scientists with the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) have been unable to determine the official cause of death of the turtle found on Tuesday morning, one has said it likely swallowed fuel or some type of contaminant, as the harbour is polluted.    

The turtle was found and retrieved by employees from local company General Transport, who later contacted MMR.

The turtle was then collected by MMR marine scientists Bermy Ariihee and Michael Parrish, who performed a necropsy at the ministry’s laboratory in an effort to determine a cause of death.

On Wednesday Ariihee said the turtle was found dead in the harbour about 8.30am.

“It was quite likely pollution, the harbour is polluted.

“This is the first time we have been in this situation, usually you could determine the cause of death.”    

No markings were observed on the exterior of the turtle and after careful examination of the esophagus, stomach, intestines and throat, nothing abnormal (plastics, pollution, twine, etc.) was found.

As a result, the cause of death was unable to be determined.

Ariihee said the turtle was likely to be two to three-years-old, based on the length of its shell.

“Hawksbill turtles have a wide habitat range and can be found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans,” she said.

“They are a critically endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which means they’re at high risk of extinction.

“But here in the Cook Islands we’re fortunate enough to see them commonly, but in other countries seeing this species is rare.”

She referred Cook Islands News to www.iucnredlist.org. The website states the Hawksbill has most recently been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2008. It is listed on the website as critically endangered.

“Meitaki Ma’ata to General Transport for contacting the ministry in response to the event, and strongly encourages the public to continue reporting cases like this,” the ministry said in a statement.