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November 16, 2018

Saving the Mediterranean, one turtle at a time

A diver frees a sea turtle near the island nation of Malta.
OCEANA / Carlos Minguell © LIFE Ba?AR for N2K


Great things are often unexpected. Oceana scientists didn’t plan to save lives on their 2016 LIFE Ba?AR expedition to Malta. But when Oceana’s vessel, the Ranger, crossed paths with a threatened loggerhead sea turtle dragging fishing line, diver Aarón Sáenz jumped in to free it.

“This tiny turtle is among the lucky ones,” said marine scientist Silvia Garcia of Oceana in Europe, who was aboard that day. “We were there to see it and do something, more than 20 miles from the nearest coast. We fixed our eyes on it, turned the Ranger around, jumped into the water with cameras and knives and released it.”

Rescuing a turtle wasn’t planned, but new marine protections were on the agenda. The expedition surveyed sensitive ocean habitats, like seagrass beds, reefs and underwater caves, to expand existing marine parks around Malta. As a result of Oceana in Europe’s work, more than 35 percent of Maltese waters are now protected, up from just 1.63 percent of the island nation’s marine environment in 2014.

Setting aside more of the underwater realm safeguards fisheries, and the people who depend on them, while keeping dangerous fishing gear away from the most fragile ecosystems. Fewer abandoned nets and lines around Malta are a win for turtles too.

As for the tangled bundle of orange fishing line – Oceana in Europe scientists lugged it onto the Ranger, and out of the environment they’d come to protect.