Sixteen sea turtles have died, and an additional six have been badly harmed by tar resulting from last month's tragic oil spill, a new report presented to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority has found. Authorities are assuming many more died at sea and have not been found.
Of the affected turtles, 17 are loggerhead sea turtles and the rest are rarer green sea turtles, the Israel Sea Turtle Rescue Center in the Nature Authority said, which is located on the coast in Mikhmoret.
The six young live turtles who arrived at the rescue center are now undergoing rehabilitation. When they arrived, the turtles were cleaned of the tar using cloths and Q-tips soaked in vegetable oil, and their digestive systems were also cleaned out using mayonnaise.
Young sea turtles live in the open sea, and float on layers of brown Sargassum macroalgae seaweed – which they use passively for migration. They are capable of diving under the seaweed and are not fast swimmers. The turtles feed on the seaweed and tiny animals, until they reach adulthood at age seven to 10 years old.
Based on our understanding of their lives, experts from the rescue center say the floating oil spill harmed mostly younger turtles, and because of the storm that occurred around the same time as the oil spill, the pollution was pushed towards Israel’s shores and the turtles were ejected from the sea, ending up on the beaches.
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Authorities hope that the widespread pollution resulting from the oil spill won't disrupt the turtles' breeding season, set to begin in about three months. During breeding season, females come ashore the sandy beaches in Israel and lay their eggs in holes they dig, and the Nature Authority collects and protects them until they hatch – to ensure the newly hatched turtles will safely return to the sea.