Sea Turtle Rescue Centre
Recovery of loggerhead turtles in our Centre, in most cases, takes up to six months. We usually receive them during the winter months and return them to the sea during the warmer weather (June-October).
Sea turtles have inhabited the world’s seas for over 110 million years, but the daily anthropogenic impact on the marine ecosystem poses an immediate threat to their survival. Sea turtles are migratory species of vertebrates of the family Cheloniidae and are the only reptiles that inhabit the marine environment. Although today we distinguish seven species of sea turtles in the world’s seas, only two species nest in the Mediterranean: the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the green (Chelonia mydas) turtle. The northern Adriatic is one of the most important habitats for loggerhead turtles. Modern methods estimate that over 20,000 individuals live in the Adriatic. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the loggerhead turtle has been declared a species of least concern (LC) in the Mediterranean, while globally, it is classified as a vulnerable species (VU).
Sea turtles are exposed to anthropogenic influences that threaten their survival on a daily basis, such as climate change, illegal hunting and commercial fishing, oil spills, artificial lighting, unplanned and uncontrolled coastal development, marine litter and pollution, and destructive fishing techniques.
About the Centre
Global sea turtle populations are declining dramatically, which is why sea turtle rescue centres have been established around the world. Our Centre is the first of its kind in Croatia. Numerous threats, such as boat strikes, fishing tools, waste, climate change, etc., threaten their survival. The Marine Turtle Rescue Centre operates within Aquarium Pula and the association “Marine Education Centre Pula” and looks after injured sea turtles from all over the Croatian part of the Adriatic. In addition to treatment and care, the activities of the Centre also include raising awareness of the general public about their protection. One of the forms of education is the return of sea turtles to the sea, which takes place every year on World Sea Turtle Day, 16 June, on the beach near the lighthouse.
To date, the Centre has rehabilitated and released over 180 loggerhead turtles back to the sea.
Accommodation of turtles
Turtles recover at the Centre in pools of different volumes at three locations: the intensive care pools in the quarantine department, the pools for further care in the inner courtyard, and the pools for rehabilitation and observation before returning to the sea on the ground floor of the fort. In cooperation with Brijuni National Park, turtles are rehabilitated in their outdoor pool (14x10x3 m).
In the quarantine department, in pools of smaller volume (1500 litres), a filtration system and heated water is used. Namely, a higher temperature favours better therapy and faster recovery. UV lamps which imitate sunlight are also used and help to improve the general condition of the turtles. Because sea turtles are solitary animals, according to quarantine rules, only one turtle can be in a particular pool to not cause additional stress.
Once out of danger, turtles are rehabilitated in larger pools. The outdoor pool (14,000 litres) is directly connected to the main aquarium flow, with fresh seawater and temperatures up to 20°C. Its advantage is exposure to natural light, i.e., the source of vitamin D needed for the growth and ossification (calcification) of the armour. The larger and deeper indoor pool (50,000 litres) is lit by state-of-the-art LED lighting and is equipped with a modern filtration system. Rehabilitation in larger and deeper pools for turtles is necessary to adapt and prepare them (strengthening muscles by swimming and finding food on their own) for their imminent return to the sea.
Upon arrival at the Centre, a detailed examination of the turtle is performed to determine its health condition and assess the severity of the injuries.
Recovery of sea turtles takes place under the supervision of a veterinarian, who prescribes the necessary treatment on arrival. The daily care of turtles includes regular feeding and cleaning of the pool and examining the turtle’s health. They feed on various marine organisms, most often sardines – a better-quality food than their normal diet. Because they belong to reptiles, cold-blooded organisms, they need to be exposed to UV rays: a natural light source and/or UV lamps that mimic sunlight. Depending on whether the turtle is suffering from an inflammatory process, injury, or malnutrition and dehydration, different treatment methods are applied: X-rays, antibiotics, painkillers, infusions, vitamins, honey compresses for faster wound healing, etc.
Preparation for returning the turtle to the sea
Before returning the turtle to the sea, it is necessary to assess the nutrition, mobility and condition of the turtle’s injuries. If the turtle is ready to return, it is marked with small plastic tags that are attached to the front fins. The tags contain the identification number of the individual to compare the weight, length of the shell and health condition with the previous data in case of rediscovery. In addition to treatment and care, the activities of the Centre also include educating the general public through workshops and events of returning turtles to the sea on World Sea Turtle Day (16 June). This event has already grown into a traditional and very well-covered event by the media, with an increasing number of citizens and tourists participating every year.
The importance of sea turtle rescue centres
- Rehabilitation of sea turtles is a unique type of protection that goes beyond the limits of individual recovery of animals. It includes research and observation that increase knowledge about the biology of sea turtles and, with that, the possibilities of species protection.
- Veterinarians, biologists, and other actors involved in their recovery also apply their knowledge outside the Centre by supporting research and conservation initiatives.
- Close encounters with injured turtles, their vulnerability and charisma, sensitise and lead the public to change and indicate the need for proactive action and responsibility for the species’ survival.
Become an active participant in the protection and conservation of sea turtles. “Adopt a Sea Turtle” will contribute to the survival of a species that is currently among the most endangered in the world. When adopting a sea turtle, you will be awarded a turtle adopter certificate, a photo of your adopted turtle with a description, and a promotional flyer.
Every adopter is also given an honorary place in the front row when releasing the adopted turtle back into the sea. All news about your adopted turtle will be delivered to you by email or to your home address.
Let them continue their journey!