An investigation is underway to determine the deaths of dozens of sea turtles that washed up on Egypt’s Mediterranean shore last week. Initial forays prompted suspicion that the turtles had eaten deliberately poisoned fish in Lake Bardawil, but conclusive results have not yet been published.
Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Mostafa Hussein Kamel established a committee to explore the cause of death of the 84 dead sea turtles, though some critics claim the ministry, the Egyptian Authority of Fish Resources and the Sinai governorate were all initially slow to respond. It isn’t clear which species have turned up in Egypt, but six out of seven marine turtles species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
Professors from Suez Canal University and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency nature conservation sector are among the committee members tasked with determining the cause of death, and they are currently analyzing blood and tissue samples.
“The committee doesn’t want to rush to conclusions, as they are still working on more lab results,” Executive Coordinator of Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) Noor Noor told Egypt Independent.
“This includes samples of dead turtles and one that is still alive although in critical condition. But some of the professors indicated that the mass deaths occurred as a result of poisoned fish that were consumed by the turtles, however this theory remains under inspection.”
Suez Canal University oceanography professor Magdy Elwani told the paper that it is common for fishermen to poison marine turtles. As fish stocks dwindle and their livelihood suffers, the fishermen eliminate their competition by feeding the turtles small tainted fish.
He added that it can sometimes take weeks for the turtles to die as the poison is absorbed into their bodies; the last two turtles to succumb in this last event are currently being examined to “verify the poison theory.”
Other possible explanations for one of the largest mass die offs of sea turtles in Egypt’s history include pollution or changes in water salinity, though no immediate signs of either presented themselves.
We should know more about the lab results next week, so stay tuned for details.
Image of sea turtle, Shutterstock