It is important to stress that if you find a turtle at sea or on the beach which has netting attached to it, or anything protruding from it, do NOT remove it. | Phoenix Media

Have you ever wondered what’s behind the tanks in an aquarium? Have you squinted past the fish to see a hand in the water cleaning some glass? Have you craned your head to look up through the bubbles to just get a tiny glimpse? Have you ever got a clear look? Well, I can tell you because I went to see Marco Magazzú last week at the Palma Aquarium, and boy there is a lot of plumbing back there!

The rescue centre. Photos: Phoenix Media Mallorca

The reason Marco has invited me along to see him is to promote a new initiative the team at the Palma Aquarium Foundation have launched in collaboration with La Caixa Forum. “Marins Majors” or to translate it to English, “Mature Mariners” is appealing to the older residents of the island to lend a hand in Marine Conservation. “We have a good group of volunteers, but they tend to be quite young, and we feel that our group would benefit from some older members as well. The aim of the project is to recruit members of the retired community to volunteer in our sea turtle rescue centre on a regular basis according to their availability. They will be helping to rehabilitate and reintroduce sea turtles back into the sea, to spread awareness through events, talks, games and best of all, they will get to experience first hand these amazing creatures up close and personal! The only three requirements are: you need to be retired, you need to have good mobility and be able to stand for some time, and you need to be able to make your own way to and from our base at the Aquarium near the airport.” If you want to contact Marco to be part of the Marin Major scheme then email him on

Marco Magazzú.

As we arrive in the rescue centre there are a group of volunteers handling a large turtle, she (or he) is missing a fin. It’s quite a normal sight here. “Many of the turtles which are found are entangled in nets.

“It is important to stress that if you find a turtle at sea or on the beach which has netting attached to it, or anything protruding from it, do NOT remove it. What can occur is that the netting has been acting as a tourniquet to the limb, and that when the limb has blood flowing back into the rest of the body it can be toxic and poison and subsequently kill the animal. We urge anyone to call 112 and tell the operator that there is a turtle that needs rescuing. We receive that call and jump in our van and come to wherever the animal is. You can place a wet cloth on their body, but not over their butts as they breathe out of them, and keep them out of the sun, but don’t try to remove anything.
“Our vets make an assessment when they see the animal as to whether they can save the limb or it needs to be removed. Sometimes we are able to save it, and then there follows a long period of physiotherapy and rehabilitation in our tanks before the animal can be returned to the sea.”

Measuring the turtle.

Do you get to attend the release?
“Yes, sometimes, it is a very special occasion. You really feel as if you have done your job!”
As he speaks (in excellent English) Marco is animated and obviously very knowledgeable about the turtles. He introduces us to the animals one by one and tells their stories: plastic pollution seems to be the overriding cause of the traumas that they have suffered. “The Mediterranean Sea is the most polluted sea on the planet”, says Marco. This seems such a surprising thing to say, but a quick Google later brings up countless results to confirm his statement. “The Mediterranean is probably the most polluted ocean in the world. The United Nations Environment Programme has estimated that 650,000,000 tons of sewage, 129,000 tons of mineral oil, 60,000 tons of mercury, 3,800 tons of lead and 36,000 tons of phosphates are dumped into the Mediterranean each year.” So we need personally to be more careful with what we do with our own rubbish, but there are bigger players involved: Marco shows us a few examples of fishing nets which have been removed from animals, and now hang in the rescue centre as part of their education programme. “The Balearic fishermen are really trying to collaborate with us, they know that we are all trying to work together. If they accidentally have an endangered species in their catch they do call us and ask us to collect it. They aren’t the ones who are dumping the nets in the sea, this part of the problem is coming from further afield and it is a cultural issue as well. It is very complex to resolve.”

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What’s the difference between the Aquarium and the Foundation?
Since June 2014, Palma Aquarium has worked in collaboration with COFIB and the Conselleria de Medio Ambiente as the official Centre for Recovery of Catalogued Marine Fauna of the Balearic Islands.
Since then, Palma Aquarium has been responsible for attending the stranding of sea turtles and cetaceans that occur on the coast of Mallorca by coordinating work teams in Ibiza, Formentera and Menorca. One of the most important aspects of this work is to ensure that injured and/or sick specimens that reach the coast receive veterinary care and to ensure their recovery and subsequent reintroduction into their natural environment.

The Aquarium has a permanent collection on display of marine fauna and flora, whilst any animals which are in the care of the Foundation are intended to be returned to their original environment as soon as they are well enough and it is appropriate to release them. The Foundation is not only called upon to help sea turtles, they are also responsible for dolphins, whales and sharks. The Foundation is the only organisation authorised in the Balearics to handle these endangered animals. The rescue centre is supported by several local organisations including local authorities, and charities such as Save the Med and the Mallorca Preservation Foundation. You will find more about the work of the Foundation here:

Some of the netting and rubbish that has been removed from the animals.

What about the Sea Turtles, why are they so important?
Although the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta is the most common species of sea turtle in the Mediterranean, it is considered an endangered species and belongs to an extensive wildlife recovery programme. In recent years, there has been an increase in impacts affecting sea turtles. At the moment, the greatest threat to sea turtles is being catched with “ghost fishing” gear. Sea turtles consume jellyfish and also clean algae from coral. They are an essential part of the marine ecosystem.

Why are we seeing so many new nesting events in the Balearics?
Marine biologists think it is because the temperature is rising due to climate change. But in addition, the temperature of where the turtle lays her eggs will determine the sex of the babies, if the temperature is above 29 degrees then the hatched turtles will be female. This is why we have been part of a programme to take 20% of the laid eggs and put them in an incubator to ensure that they hatch at below 29 degrees to ensure both sexes are born, it also means that these babies have a better chance of making it to adulthood. As it is only 1 in a thousand of the hatched eggs make it to adulthood (20 years old) in the wild, so the odds are very much against them. The nests which have been detected in Mallorca are being protected by the local authorities and we urge people to not disturb them.

What do you do if you see a turtle laying eggs?
Firstly on no account take a photo with a flash! This will signal to the turtle that she is in danger and she will go back to the sea and dump the eggs in the water. Instead call 112 and tell the operator that there is a nesting event and we will come and take care of the area.

In the seahorse rescue.

After we have seen the turtles, we also visit the seahorse and shark projects, which are also the responsibility of the Foundation. And then finally we go back outside into the sunlight to visit a couple of sea turtles who are swimming in a tank in the public area. They aren’t there permanently Marco says, they will hopefully be released soon. As I take a few photos of the turtles (they are quite hard to get in focus it turns out) a member of the public also takes a photo. It makes me wonder what these ancient creatures, these “dinosaurs” as Marco describes them, must think of us and the way we are wrecking their home. The turtle bobs her head above the water and I get the shot. I hope that you, dear reader, will pass on the information to your friends, and remember to call 112 if you see an animal in trouble. Marco, and the volunteers, will be there to help.