Panama City, Nov 8 (EFE).- At least 151 sea turtles, most of them endangered green or Kemp’s Ridleys, were found dead on the beaches of Panama’s Pacific coast in September and October for reasons that are still unknown, authorities said Tuesday.
The acting director of the Panamanian Environment Ministry’s Coasts and Seas Division, Marino Abrego, told Efe that a report issued Monday by that portfolio gave a breakdown by province: “61 turtles (dead) in Los Santos, 70 in Veraguas, two in Panama Oeste and 18 in Chiriqui.”
It said green sea turtles and Kemp’s Ridleys accounted for most of the deaths and that many of the reptiles were male.
The green turtle is a large species that lives in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide and is regarded as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The hunting of that species is therefore prohibited in nearly all countries worldwide.
The Kemp’s Ridley turtle is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered and has a much more restricted distribution, with most of its nesting occurring on the coasts of the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
“We had the first sign in April of this year, but we consider that an isolated incident that is unrelated to the turtles found in September and October,” when the number of deaths rose sharply, Abrego said.
Experts are still trying to determine the precise cause of the deaths, according to the official, who said one hypothesis is that they occurred well out at sea since these reptiles are arriving on beaches in an advanced state of decomposition.
Another is that the deaths are related in some way to fishing activity.
The turtles’ advanced state of decay has made it impossible to perform a necropsy – the lone tool that could determine the real cause of death, the biologist said.
In a bid to clear up the matter, environmental authorities in Panama held a meeting with experts from the University of Panama, the International Maritime University of Panama, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Environmental, Rural and Tourism Police, as well as other institutions.
The experts have ruled out the possibility that the turtles were poisoned by toxic marine algae, saying if that were the case other marine organisms would have been affected.
“It’s a worrying situation and a top priority for the Environment Ministry because it’s a situation in which we still haven’t been able to put our finger on the (causative) factor,” Abrego said.
One precedent for this unusual situation in Panama occurred in 2013, when some 200 green turtles were found dead in the same area and at a similar time of year, the biologist said, adding that it also was not possible then to determine the cause of death. EFE