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Rescued Hawksbill Sea Turtle hatchling rehabilitated and released back into the wild

25 Jan 2018

The National Parks Board (NParks) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) earlier this week released a rescued and rehabilitated Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) hatchling into the waters of Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. The hatchling has been microchipped so that it can be identified if it returns to Singapore’s shores in the future. The knowledge gained from the rescue and rehabilitation of this hatchling will contribute to our understanding of the critically endangered* Hawksbill Sea Turtle and help to guide conservation efforts.

 

Rescue, rehabilitation and release

The rescued hatchling is from a batch of eggs that NParks found on one of the Southern Islands in September last year. As it was premature with the yolk sac still visible externally when it was found, it was handed to WRS, barely alive and severely dehydrated.

Supportive treatment was initiated immediately, mainly in the form of fluids. Critical care was provided overnight, and by morning, the hatchling had completely emerged from its egg. For the next few days, the hatchling was monitored closely, and WRS’ vet care team supplemented it with fluids until it had fully absorbed its yolk sac. The hatchling was then transferred to a larger tank and solid food was offered, which it took readily.

Weighing just 10g when it hatched, the sea turtle has grown to 500g in the last four months, while under the care of WRS. As it grew, the tank size was further adjusted to ensure it had adequate space to develop its swimming prowess. Diet-wise, it received a variety of food, which included mussel, flower crab, shrimp, squid and fish. NParks also provided live rocks (which has organisms growing on it), an essential part of a sea turtle’s diet.

Thorough veterinary checks were conducted on 3 January this year, which included a full blood profile, x-rays and morphometrics. It also received a microchip, which will allow for identification should it return to our shores. The checks indicated that the sea turtle was a healthy specimen and in superb body condition, and the decision was made to return it to the wild as soon as possible.

After the sea turtle was released on the beach at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, it scurried into the sea and started swimming immediately. It swam around the shallow lagoon waters for a while before making its way slowly towards the mouth of the lagoon. After navigating past the ring of Sargassum seaweed fringing the reef outside the lagoon, it descended to the shallow reef slope for a short rest before breaking surface and swimming out to sea.

 

Conserving our marine biodiversity together

The Marine Turtle Working Group, which is made up of nine stakeholders including NParks and WRS, helps to assess and document turtle arrivals and hatchling success on our beaches, and shape marine turtle conservation and management plans. The group recorded 18 Hawksbill Sea Turtle sightings (including arrivals, nests and hatchlings) on Singapore’s shores in 2017, as compared to 43 sightings reported between 2011 and 2016. Last year, over 500 successful hatchlings from seven separate nests were recorded, including the nest the rescued hatchling was from.

The increased number of recorded sightings and hatchlings in 2017 is not only an encouraging sign for the species, which is under NParks’ species recovery programme, but also reflects heightened public awareness as many sightings were reported by members of the public. It underscores the importance of the community’s support in conserving our biodiversity, and we hope to continue to involve them through activities and programmes held throughout the year in celebration of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2018.

For example, participants in an upcoming NParks citizen science programme, Beach Patrol, will be trained to identify target coastal species, such as marine turtles and horseshoe crabs, and help to look out for these species and turtle nests along our shores. Interested participants can sign up for the training workshop at www.nparks.gov.sg/iyor  from 4 February, 10 am, as well as to get the latest updates on IYOR activities and programmes.

While the team is cautiously optimistic of the rescued hatchling’s chances of survival, we are aware of the challenges it will face. Sea turtles, especially juveniles, face predation and other natural threats. Increasingly, they are also being impacted by human activity, in particular plastic debris in the ocean. Members of the public can help ensure the seas stay safe for turtles and other marine species by keeping beaches and waters free from litter, as well as to reduce the use of plastic straws and plastic bags.

Those who encounter a turtle can contact the NParks helpline (1800-471-7300). They should keep their distance from the turtle and speak softly. Touching the turtle may scare or provoke it. Similarly, one should not handle the eggs as that might damage them. More information on what to do when encountering marine turtles can be found at https://nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/dos-and-donts/animal-advisories/hawksbillturtles.

 

* As classified under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species

 

Annex: Pictures of rescue, rehabilitation and release

Last updated on 09 July 2018

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