Fishing lines, nylon and hooks major cause of turtle deaths in Malta

Most of the 161 turtles found stranded on the Maltese coast between 2012 and 2018, were injured or killed by marine litter, particularly that related to fishing

The majority of the turtles were observed alone, although occasional sightings with two to four turtles together were  recorded in 2015
The majority of the turtles were observed alone, although occasional sightings with two to four turtles together were recorded in 2015

Most of the 161 turtles found stranded on the Maltese coast between 2012 and 2018, were injured or killed by marine litter, particularly that related to fishing.

A report compiled by the Environment and Resources Authority on the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, said that while 110 turtles were found dead, the rest were either rehabilitated or immediately released.

While in 35% of cases, the cause of death or injury was unknown, a large fraction of the stranded turtles (49%) showed signs of interaction with fishing gear, either because of ingestion of marine litter or entanglement in fishing lines. 10% died as a result of an impact with a boat.

A few cases of ingestion of other plastic material (such as bags) were also recorded.

Since hooks were also present in the mouth of some specimen, a number of deaths were still caused as a result of by-catch by long-lining, rather than marine litter. In 2018, 10 of the 29 stranded turtles had hooks in their mouth. This contrasts with official data claiming that no turtles were caught as by-catch.

The loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta is considered as the only Maltese marine reptile with a stable population.

As yet, there are no estimates of the population abundance of loggerhead turtles in Maltese waters. During surveys conducted between 2013 and 2014, 102 and 188 turtles were recorded in each respective year. A further 62 sightings were recorded in 2015 and 81 sightings were recorded in 2016.

The majority of the turtles were observed alone, although occasional sightings with two to four turtles together were also recorded in 2015.

At average sizes of less than 50cm, the population of the loggerhead turtles in Malta is mainly composed of juveniles.

Two nesting events occurred in 2016 and 2018. In September 2016, 66 turtles hatched from a nest in Ramla tal-Mixquqa, and in August 2018, 98 turtles hatched from another nest in Ġnejna Bay.

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