By now, everyone must have seen the horrific video of a plastic drinking straw being pulled from a turtle’s nostril. In the video the turtle is bleeding, sniffing, clearly distressed and in pain. It was this video which inspired the worldwide movement to ban plastic drinking straws and for good reason. It is a sorrowful video to watch with the emotional background music and the amount of time it takes to abstract the straw.
But I never thought I’d see something similar on my doorstep.
As usual, this morning I was walking my dog around the Balluta Bay area and thought I could see a little light-furred dog on the sand. It wasn’t moving. As I drew closer I could make out the smooth underbelly of a fairly large turtle and its lifeless flippers. I’m not a biologist so I don’t know if it was large or small for the species, how old it was or even if it was male or female. All I could see was that it looked healthy. Well, healthy aside from the thick fishing line wrapped around its body and attached to the hook in its mouth.
A few people had stopped to take photos and were visibly moved by the spectacle. Yet, it made me wonder how many of them were fish eaters or vegetarians. I can’t judge as I eat both but after seeing the 2021 documentary Seaspiracy, I have really tried to move towards a plant-based diet. Seaspiracy, despite receiving much criticism, is a frightening look at how the fishing industries are just plain destroying our seas and the oceans to the point that they will not be able to recover. Although some of the scenes seem a little staged and exaggerated one cannot argue with the footage and its accompanying facts and figures.
Aside from plastic straws and other non-biodegradable refuse, the main culprit is discarded plastic fishing nets from the fishing industry. According to The Guardian ‘More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.’ These ‘ghost’ nets cause obvious untold damage and death to sea life but for some reason we are more worried about straws.
Our very own Charlon Gouder, the CEO of Malta’s tuna ranching lobby which makes up part of of the Maltese Aquaculture Producers was quoted by Malta Today as saying Seaspiracy is ‘littered with misinformation’ and that it is a ‘negative portrayal of the aquaculture industry’. According to the Times of Malta, Gouder’s position as policy consultant to the Maltese Minister of Environment was terminated on 9 September 2018 because he had been chosen by the lucrative local tuna ranchers industry to act as their chief lobbyist with the local authorities. Again, according to the Times of Malta it is unclear whether he left under his own volition or if he had been asked to step down by the Minister.
It would appear however that Gouder has a conflict of interests regarding this matter – ironically, another of the main points detailed in SeaSpiracy.
So what do we do? We live on a small island surrounded by breathtakingly clear, blue waters. Surely, fish should be a staple of any island diet? The question is a complicated one but the only thing I am sure of is we need a trustworthy government who will protect our waters not just the financial interests of fisheries.
I spoke to the employees of Clean Malta as they were lifting the turtle’s carcass into their van to be taken off and incinerated. They assured me that this wasn’t a regular occurrence. It doesn’t really matter if it is regular or not to this turtle though, does it?