A dead sea turtle that washed up on the shores of South Lebanon has caught the public’s attention after photos of the animal circulated across social media channels Thursday. The sea turtle, believed to be around 50-years-old, reportedly died after choking on a plastic bag it mistook for a jellyfish. However, there could be more to the story.


(Photo via The Daily Star)

Mona Khalil heads up a turtle conservation project, which doubles as a bed and breakfast called The Orange House Project on Mansouri beach. Her team combs the beach during nesting season to locate nests and protect them from human and animal attacks by fencing them in.

We asked Khalil to comment on the death of the sea turtle, and she expressed skepticism about the information circulating in mainstream media. “We can at least be honest with the public, instead of aiming to sell stories that have no [factual] basis,” said Khalil. "The papers claimed that this sea turtle died by choking on a plastic bag, but there is no way of knowing that until the turtle has been opened up [for autopsy], which hasn't been done, and probably won’t be done,” she added.

Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered, and South Lebanon has witnessed a severe drop in its local population over the last few years. In 2012, the number of sea turtle nests laid on the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve dropped by half from around ten to just five, according to Al-Akhbhar news.

When asked about the steps the government has failed to take in the protection of sea turtles, Khalil’s answer proved that the common denominator is a continual threat from humans, saying: “Though it is illegal, dynamite fishing is still a reality in Lebanon. The punishment for fishing with dynamite is supposed to be three years in jail. Instead, we see people being held for a day or two before being released. The government is simply not enforcing the law.”

Khalil added that another great danger to the sea turtles as well as the general population was the use of poisons in fishing. In this situation, fishermen first use poison to kill the fish, and then collect them in their nets. “Sadly, this poison doesn't just harm the fish, but the people who eat the fish are also at risk of falling ill. And of course, the sea turtles end up ingesting the poison too, which has killed several in the past,” said Khalil.

“The most important thing is awareness,” she stressed. "We need to have awareness campaigns that inform people about how their habits can affect the environment. We must also push supermarkets and pharmacies to use alternatives to plastic bags, which have a detrimental effect on the environment. Why not offer paper bags or even re-usable bags?”


(Photo by The Orange House Project via SPNL)

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