Monaco’s turtle rehabilitation is making waves

Turtle preservation in the Mediterranean is getting a major boost thanks to a new research facility at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. The addition of a turtle tank overlooking the sea is an opportunity for the public to meet real sea turtles, while serving as a rehabilitation centre before the marine animals are released back into the wild.

The new Turtle Tank is situated outside overlooking the Mediterranean © M. Dagnino – Institut océanographique

Sammy and Avril are two turtles living at the rehabilitation tank at the Oceanographic Museum. Born in captivity, they cannot be released into the wild so they were moved to their new home in Monaco in May. The two eight-year-old loggerhead sea turtles are part of a larger effort to rescue and rehabilitate injured turtles found in the area.

The tank, sitting outdoors on a terrace overlooking the sea, holds a variety of local fish and fauna, so injured turtles will feel at home as they recover. A locked door on the terrace leads to a section of the rehabilitation centre which is otherwise closed to the public. It is here where Olivier Brunel, the head of the Aquarium, oversees daily management of the institution. He explained how the centre, in coordination with other local turtle conservation organisations, works to ensure the health and safety of turtles in the seas surrounding Monaco.

© M. Dagnino – Institut océanographique

The Oceanographic museum has also taken the initiative to educate local people who are frequently at sea on how to spot an injured turtle.

“We don’t have boats, they are our eyes on the sea,” said Brunel. “If they see turtles who need to be rescued, they can call us. We have arranged training on how to observe and know if a turtle is hurt, or just healthy and resting.”

Whether they are recreational fishermen, rowers or sailors, all sea-loving residents of Monaco play an important part in this new branch of the institution. An important centre for research since the 19th century, the Monaco Oceanographic Museum has focused efforts on turtle conservation globally, and they are making waves in sea turtle research.

© M. Dagnino – Institut océanographique

Since March, the museum has hosted two training sessions to teach community members how to spot sea turtles and report back to the research and rehabilitation facility. If they are safe and happy, they should be accounted for and left alone. If they are injured, they should be brought into the centre in a safe way.

The first step is to see what kind of injuries the turtle has. Some receive injuries to their shell from boats, or they can become entangled in nets or ropes. A common culprit is plastics that turtles digest, then they and can no longer eat. A vet from the aquarium works with other professionals to solve the problems. For example, the turtles are given special food at the centre to facilitate good digestion and eliminate the plastic.

© M. Dagnino – Institut océanographique

“If everything is fine and the turtle is well again, it goes to the rehabilitation tank where we will evaluate if it is well enough to go back to sea,” explained Brunel. “We put a tag giving its GPS position on the shell, which allows us to follow the turtle for a few months, to see its behaviour. It helps with scientific research and gathering general information from sea turtles.”

The Monaco Oceanographic Museum is an important link in French coastal research. Thanks to its partnerships with local sea goers and other French marine institutions, scientists in Monaco will contribute valuable information about these difficult to understand wild animals.

The rehabilitation centre will also be at the forefront of new ocean research. For example, a giant clam rescue project aims to repopulate a species that is quickly disappearing from the Mediterranean. They are setting up traps to collect larvae from these clams over the summer, to be inspected in September.