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The turtles at the Junta de Andalucía centre, ready to be transferred to Selwo Marina. SUR
Vulnerable loggerhead turtles take a learning break in Benalmádena before reaching the sea for the first time
Nature

Vulnerable loggerhead turtles take a learning break in Benalmádena before reaching the sea for the first time

The Selwo Marina aquarium will take care of these five specimens, which have been under the Junta's de Andalucía's protection programme for almost a year, while waiting for the sea temperature to rise so that they can be released into their natural habitat

Lorena Cádiz

Benalmádena

Friday, 5 July 2024, 16:43

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They are not yet a year old. The eggs were laid on 29 August 2023 on a beach in Nueva Andalucía in Marbella. That laying brought into the world dozens of loggerhead turtles, a species of sea turtle that is currently in a vulnerable state of conservation. That does not mean that they all survived, in fact many fall by the wayside in the first year of life. From the nest on the beach they were transferred to the Marine Environment Management Centre of the Strait (CEGMA), a reference centre for the recovery of loggerhead turtles, supported by the Junta de Andalucía.

After spending a few months at the CEGMA centre, on Monday they arrived at the Selwo Marina aquarium in Benalmádena where a special facility for them has been created. The five loggerhead turtles will spend a period of time at the aquarium, before being released into their natural habitat. The idea is that the five turtles will remain in the Selwo Marina facilities until the water becomes warmer in the summer, after which, they will then be released into the sea.

The aquarium is collaborating with the Head Start programme for loggerhead turtle breeding promoted by the regional authority's department of sustainability, environment and blue economy. This is a programme in which cooperation between zoos, aquariums, oceanographic aquariums and institutions, together with volunteers and the collaboration of the public, is essential for these hatchlings to survive.

Release the turtles into the aquarium's turtle pools. SUR

Among the actions included in this programme, it is considered of great importance that there is environmental enrichment during their stay in Selwo, that is, that the animals are provided with a series of different stimuli that favour natural behaviour, avoiding abnormal behaviour and increasing animal welfare. In the case of the hatchling turtles, the space is naturalised through methods that simulate algae, along with structures where they can rest, while use is made of currents, waves, rain and the noise of the birds.

Craig Allum, head of conservation at Selwo Marina, explained the procedure used to find the right space in the zoo to house the turtles: "There is a lot of work behind this facility, which is very well thought out and meets the standards perfectly. We have a very advanced filtration system so that the turtles are perfectly cared for."

Daily care

When these turtles were hatched last year, each one of them was closely monitored: during incubation, diseases could be transmitted from the egg, which is why hatching is often complicated. Among the tasks of the keepers during these months are weighing, taking measurements and daily feeding (between two and three feedings a day). The diet is a mixture of blue fish, white fish, molluscs and crustaceans, and evolves during the time spent in the zoo or aquarium and the transit to the sea, depending on the turtle's stage of growth. It ranges from mush, to a mixture of small pieces of fish, to whole small fish, as well as supplements with nutrients that can be found in the marine environment (spirulina algae, for example).

One of the loggerhead turtles. SUR

These actions are essential as they allow the temporary breeding in captivity of some of the turtle hatchlings from each nest, in a context where, it is estimated that only one out of every 1,000 turtles survives the first natural year of life. The information these turtles also provide is of enormous value to the scientific community, given the lack of knowledge about the state of the marine environment. They are fundamental to marine biodiversity, in fact, "they play an important role in the marine ecosystem, helping to control jellyfish plagues, for example", Allum said.

These loggerhead turtle hatchlings - with an average size of six centimetres and a weight of 17 grams - go from hatchlings on a sandy sea floor to conditioned tanks such as those installed in Selwo Marina, where they can grow stronger to begin their life in the marine ecosystem to which they belong. And they will do so with a guarantee of survival. "It is a beautiful project and we are proud to take part. We are essentially a marine zoological collection and to be able to collaborate in the conservation of these turtles is very important to us," explained the head of conservation.

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