La Rochelle Aquarium has been developing an observational and care programme for sea turtles for many years now. Funded by the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea, this initiative is part of a national programme aimed at monitoring these protected animals.
Long fished for their meat or shell, sea turtles are now an endangered species. Out of the 7 species of sea turtle surviving in the world, 4 can be found on the French Atlantic coastline. Alerted by the informants’ network spread across the Atlantic coast, the C.E.S.T.M. at La Rochelle Aquarium rescues washed-up turtles from the Spanish coasts all the way up to the tip of Brittany.
Suffering from undernourishment, hypothermia or mutilation, these turtles receive all the care they need upon arriving at the Centre in La Rochelle. They are looked after in optimum conditions during the winter, and then in the summer, the turtles are released out to sea at La Rochelle. Beforehand, they are tagged on one of their flippers with a metal ring bearing a single number for identifying them during subsequent observations. An electronic chip has also been inserted in one of the non-tagged flippers recently, to enable their identification should the metal ring be lost.
Indeed, the C.E.S.T.M. has also tasked itself with studying the causes of death in sea turtles and, when they are found dead, the Aquarium’s biologists carry out autopsies. Scientists have been able to prove that 50% of Leatherback turtles found washed-up on our beaches had suffered an intestinal occlusion after swallowing plastic bags that they confuse with their favourite food, jellyfish.
In order to improve our knowledge of sea turtles rescued on our coasts, the Aquarium has been developing new programmes, such as satellite monitoring since 2008, which monitors young Loggerhead sea turtles in real time and therefore increases our understanding of their movements in the Bay of Biscay. We are also forging partnerships with research laboratories so as to determine where the sea turtles, found dead or alive on our beaches, have come from, through genetic analyses.