Lampedusa-Italy 2016July 18 2016
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Homerous has been swimming in the wild since October 2016. This marine turtle became famous on the small island of Lampedusa, where she stayed more than eight years at the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue. A long time necessary to heal her deep wounds.
Thanks to an Argos GPS beacon firmly glued to her back, we can now follow her every moves. That is, until the battery dies out. See revolutionary map: http://octopusfoundation.org/en/lampedusa-tool-follow-homerous/
Daniela Freggi, the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue director, had to learn to live without her favorite marine turtle: “At first, no other turtle was put in Homerous’ tank. Until we received a young specimen that needed enough room to move around. It was really weird in the beginning, but we are slowly accepting the fact that Homerous has become a story. A story with a beginning, and now an end.”
In the first couple of weeks of freedom, it seems like the most famous Italian turtle wasn’t really keen on leaving the island that had become her home for the better part of the last decade. Yet, the calling for the open sea proved too strong to resist, and she literally took off toward the South-West. Her velocity put to rest all the worries about her physical health.
The Italian specialists are not surprised by Homerous’ itinerary. Daniela Freggi explains: “She has been spending the last months in the Gulf of Sirte. It is exactly where we hoped she would go, because it's a Mediterranean hotspot for winter food. Now, I would really like her to start moving towards Greece. It would mean she is looking for a place to hatch. Spring is the breeding season for marine turtles.”
Despite all of the emotions that are stirred by this adventure, Daniela and her team of volunteers don't have the luxury to be nostalgic. The French-Italian biologist says that “since last October, we took care of around 30 new turtles. Our procedure is now very well oiled: we collect a blood sample as soon as the animal is brought to the clinic. No matter if it’s an old turtle or a young one, healthy or sick. It’s still too early to draw scientific conclusions, but the new centrifuge and microscope are a huge help. We now have a photo of each blood sample. This kind of data will probably allow us to write thesis in the future.”
And things will not slow down any time soon. There is a near constant flow of new marine turtles brought to the Lampedusa Turle Rescue by Italian fishermen. Daniela Freggi explains that “the novelty is that one of the fishermen has begun to send me WhatsApp messages. It’s amazing, because today I already know that he will be bringing me three new specimens tomorrow. And with the photos, I can estimate their size and physical health in advance. These new technologies are beautiful new bridges between the fishermen and us.”
A happy ending to a successful mission. Thanks for following !
Mid October 2016, the Octopus Foundation returned to the Italian island of Lampedusa to help the "Lampedusa Turtle Rescue". Once again, we decided to attach the Olympus camera (Tough TG-Tracker) on the back of a marine turtle for half an hour. This time, it is a 34kg specimen that takes us for a ride.
11th and last day of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: releasing of several turtles in paradise.
Early this morning, we all had a date on the beach of Cala Maluk. Daniela was there, of course, with all the volunteers of the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue center. The team from OCEAN71 was also ready with most of the gear:
- 360° camera system
- underwater wide-angle camera strapped on the back of a 27-kilo turtle
- underwater photographer with housing
- assistance boat
The plan was to release three fully rehabilitated turtles in one of the most picturesque beaches on the Italian island.
At 8 o'clock in the morning, there were very few tourists interfering with their iPads, and the light was amazing.
Have a look if you don't believe us:
p.s. soon we will release the footage from the 360° camera system, and from the underwater wide-angle strapped to the turtle's back
Day 10 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: Sophie's 15 minutes of fame.
After several days of rehab at the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue center, Sophie was released in the Mediterranean.
Her first 15 minutes in the wild were captured on film, and the data shows lots of interesting stuff.
On the left of the image, there is her trajectory during the recording. In the center, the cycle of diving and surfacing for air, and on the right (in french) different data such as temperature, average speed, and other fascinating information.
Have a look at the results, and the footage.
Day 9 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: back to the wild.
Two turtle are ready to be set free. We decide it's a great photo opportunity, especially today with the perfect weather and offshore winds that blow the mist away.
The two reptiles are tagged at the center, and loaded on the boat to be brought to Cala Galera, on the south side of Lampedusa.
The first turtle is released, and takes off like a jetplane, straight towards the open sea.
The second turtle is Sophie, photographed in the previous article.
In order to film the first minutes of her new freedom, we equipped her with a underwater camera, the Olympus Tough TG Tracker.
The camera is set on time lapse mode, with a picture every second. It's an interesting device that modifies the white balance according to the depth, measured by a pressure gauge. It also takes GPS coordinates that can be retraced on the computer after the recording.
Luckily, after release, Sophie stays for a while in Cala Grande and can be photographed both under the water and above, by the drone.
After visiting the surroundings, she finally turns towards the open sea and is released of its leash and camera after 30 minutes of controlled swimming. She is now 100% free, and probably appreciating it very much.
Maybe one day she will turn up on a faraway coast, and Daniela will receive an email in a strange language, informing her of the feat. Good luck Sophie, and farewell!
Day 8 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: record breaking.
It seems that when you work in turtle protection, something exciting happens everyday.
Yesterday, Daniela received an incredible email: somebody in Turkey had found one of her turtles.
It's already great to know that the animal swam on such a large distance. But what is really exciting is that the reptile was tagged on Lampedusa the 26th of August 2003. It was 13 years ago. A record for Daniela and her center.
During that time, the turtle had grown 30cm longer in size.
How does she know all that ?
Before releasing each animal, Daniela and her team don't let it go without a little gift: a tag on both front arm, with a serial number carved on them.
That way, when a turtle is caught anywhere on the planet, anytime, it can be traced back to where it all begun. In this case, to the Turtle Rescue Center of Lampedusa.
On this photo, Sophie has been tagged 2 minutes earlier, and will be released in a couple of hours.
Day 7 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: getting wet and impressed.
After several days of fine tuning Homerus' custom made harness, and drilling the use of the 360° camera system, we decided we were ready for the ultimate test.
First, the harness was put on Homerus at the center, and adjusted so that it would be 100% comfortable. Then, the turtle was put back into its tank to wait for the team to be fully operational.
The two divers put on their wetsuits, took the boat from the port and headed towards Cala Pisana, a famous beach in the eastern part of the island.
Once the boat was in position, with the divers ready to put their masks on, Homerus was brought by van, and placed in knee-deep water.
The two divers approached with the 360° camera system and fixed it on the turtle's back in less than 3 seconds.
Then it was game on.
With a leash firmly attached to its harness, Homerus was released where it belongs, in the open sea. It took off, leaving the two divers behind like a supercharged car racing a bicycle.
After 10 to 15 minutes, the 360° camera system was removed, so that Homerus could fully enjoy the moment.
The boat stayed at a distance in case of assistance, and retrieved the cameras.
In the air, the drone hovered over the group to take pictures and assist in case something went wrong and the crew on the boat needed directions.
After half an hour of semi-freedom, Homerus was brought back on dry land, and driven to the center. All in all, it wore the harness for 3 hours, and didn't mind one bit.
This is what Daniela had to say about the experience: "It was outstanding. Homerus wasn't traumatized in any way, and the camera didn't seem to bother her underwater. She was a bit off balance when coming back up for air, though".
Philippe, the magazine's photographer, couldn't believe his eyes, he who had seen Homerus 5 years ago in a very different state: "She used to weigh 20 kilos less than today, and have only one functional flipper. She was struggling at the time, and today, we were the ones struggling. We just couldn't keep up with her for a second, it was impressive. My legs are killing me after all this effort. The best moment for me was when Daniela gave me the leash, and I could feel the turtle's strength on the other side of the rope. At some point, she calmed down after the rush of the first acceleration towards the open sea, and she relaxed. I could really feel how much she was enjoying this moment, it was powerful. Today, she won, and it's the proof that Daniela's rehabilitation has worked."
Even if the rehab is promising, it is not fully complete and a few more months at the center are still necessary.
Now, it remains to be seen if the 360° system's images are exploitable. But even if they are not, the experience brought some new knowledge to the people of the Turtle Rescue Center of Lampedusa.
On the following aerial photo, the operational boat can be seen on the left. On the right, Daniela is holding the leash and being followed by the center's volunteers and the divers.
Can you spot Homerus ?
Day 6 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: it's getting crowded in here.
When the OCEAN71 crew arrived on Lampedusa on the 17th of July 2016, there were 7 marine turtles at the Rescue Center managed by the energetic Daniela.
6 days later, they are 23.
How did such a dramatic increase happen?
Filipo, an Italian fisherman, phoned Daniela on Thursday afternoon, saying he had 13 turtles of various sizes and ages on his boat, and if she would be kind enough to come pick them up.
After hanging up, Daniela told us to wait and see, since he is a guy that often tells jokes. But he is also the guy that brought 600 marine turtles to the center over the years. So the expectations were high.
At sunset, as the port of Lampedusa is covered in orange light, Filipo docks his boat. Daniela and her army of volunteers can't believe their eyes.
Today's phone call was no joke: 13 new turtles are unloaded one by one, put in Daniela's van with Tetris expertise, and brought to the center in individual plastic tubs. One of the reptile is gigantic, larger than Homerus.
Marina, the center's coordinator, tells us: "Such a large number at once is exceptional. It hadn't happened in 10 years".
Only 15 minutes after Filipo's docking, the effervescence at the center is unbelievable. Everybody is running around, trying to get things organised for the turtles' well-being.
It's far from being chaotic. Daniela is like a conductor that supervises a well-oiled machine. In less than two hours, each turtle is measured, weighed, assessed and placed in a clean tub for the night.
Most of the new animals have fishing hooks in theirs mouths or bellies, and 8 of them will need a surgical intervention in the following days.
For the next weeks, the Rescue Center will be full from floor to ceiling. Especially when an additional turtle was brought the following day. And two more the day after that...
In terms of action, we can't complain.
Stay tuned for the stories and photos.
Day 5 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: the butterfly effect - or - how small changes can make a big difference
When the Octopus Foundation received the green light to financially help the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue Center in June 2016, it asked Daniela a simple question: "If tomorrow you would receive a substantial sum of money, what would you do with it?"
She answered: "I would buy a new microscope with a built-in camera".
Fast forward 3 weeks, and most of the Foundation's team is standing in a circle, looking over Daniela's shoulder, in the center's laboratory in Lampedusa.
Daniela is peering through the lens of a brand new Optika B-380ALC microscope for the first time, and on the table to her right, a computer screen is displaying a live feed of what she is seeing.
The audience is watching a sample of Roberta's blood. Roberta is a ten-year-old Caretta caretta turtle, a juvenile in recovery at the center.
Daniela explains why the new microscope is such an improvement in the center's efficiency to help saving endangered marine turtles:
"The built in camera takes incredibly precise pictures of the blood cells and other fluids. For the blood, we take a sample, dry it and dye it. Each picture can be compared with our empiric knowledge. At the Lampedusa center, we have a lot of experience when it comes to observing turtles. But it's only on a chemical level that we can be certain that the animal is doing well or poorly. For example, I once had a turtle that looked perfectly fine, but when we did an X-ray, she had a hook in the stomach. We can't always judge a book by its cover.
The blood of a marine turtle is very different from ours, and all the existing tools to analyse it are useless for us. Also, turtle blood experts are scarce. I know only 3 of them in the world, and Nicole Stancy from Florida is our main interlocutor.
With the new microscope you allowed us to buy, we can send pictures of Roberta's blood to Nicole. It's groundbreaking work for her, because she not only receives a blood sample, but a complete medical record. Usually, she has the fluids, but not the animal. Here, we had the animals but not the blood. Now we have both. I can't emphasize enough how much this is going to change our lives, and the scientific research to better understand these incredible creatures."
Philippe, the Octopus Foundation's photographer, is really interested in this research. He asks: "I know that turtles can hold their breath for a very long time because of their incredible blood. To be able to swim underwater for longer, should I inject myself with some of Roberta's blood?" Philippe the marine reptile holding a camera housing... Definitely an interesting thought for Hollywood.
Day 4 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission. Time to zoom out and get a bit of fresh air.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when somebody mentions this rocky island?
A place of suffering, far away, someone's else problem? Some say it might even be dangerous.
It couldn't be further from the truth. Even though we are closer to Tunisia than to Sicily,the DNA is definitely Italian.
The traffic is crazy traffic and the parking is out-of-control. Grown men walk around in shockingly tiny shorts. The smell of fresh focaccia comes out from every corner.
And it takes less than a minute to find a café that sells delicious ristrettos and gelato.
Every year, almost 200'000 people visit the island, and nothing bad happens to them apart from an occasional sunburn.
They are mostly Italians from the mainland, but some English and other nationalities come as well.
They enjoy the laid back atmosphere, the food, but most of all the amazingly clear waters of the Mediterranean.
The sea's various shades of blue contrast sharply with the arid land and cliffs. A splendid opportunity to take out the drone, and go for a couple of flights.
Lampedusa is very different when seen from the sky.
This is what the Faro (lighthouse) Capo Grecale looks like at sunrise:
Day 3 of our 2016 Lampedusa mission, and we get our shirts wet and hands dirty.
One of the secondary goals of the mission is to attach a 360° camera (composed of 6 GoPros in a 3D printed cube) on a turtle's carapace, while it swims in the crystal clear waters of Lampedusa. This demands a bit of preparation as several problems quickly arise.
Firstly, we don't want to injure an already recovering turtle.
Secondly, we obviously don't want the reptile to swim away with over 3000 euros worth of fragile equipment.
With those two objectives in mind, we design a custom-built harness to perfectly fit Homerus, the most famous turtle at the Lampedusa Rescue Clinic.
This is designed to allow a team of divers to always hold on to the turtle like a dog on a leash.
Then, a special flexible metallic plate is firmly put on Homerus' carapace. Its function is to provide a smooth surface for the two powerful suction cups to hold on and not let go of the 360° camera system.
A time lapse of the first test is available on the following Youtube link. As you see, it wasn't the easiest of tasks to manipulate an uncooperative 41-kilo reptile. Most of the OCEAN71 crew got a little wet. We were nonetheless rewarded for our efforts.
More news will be given here as we further test this unique equipment. Enjoy !
Day two of our 2016 Lampedusa mission: Now we know where the "Turtle Rescue Center" got its name from.
During the first day, we unpacked our gear in the large and welcoming house rented for the center's many volunteers. We spent the day organizing tasks, and testing the various sensitive equipment that suffered from yesterday's two flights. After hours of fine tuning, everything now works perfectly. We enjoyed delicious gelato as a reward.
On the morning of the second day, Daniela, the energetic French-Italian women without whom the center wouldn't exist, got an emergency phone call. A local fisherman was bringing a wounded turtle. No time to waste.
The young loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) had a 7-centimeter-long hook normally used to catch swordfish planted in its thick tongue. As the fisherman brought it to the center, a well-oiled machine was set into motion. The Lampedusa mission officially begun.
Daniela and the six volunteers all gathered around Aldo, the Italian veterinarian. Tasks were distributed, and the steps were explained:
First, the turtle was named. Since the fisherman's boat was called Giovanni Battista, we had two choices. The latter won the quick vote. Then, an X-ray was performed on Battista's upper body, to see if it ingested more than one foreign elements, which it apparently hadn't. After that came the weighing (16.4 kilos) and measuring (50.1 centimeters long). Battista is believed to be 10 to 12 years old, so we can't know yet if it's a male or a female.
During some of these steps, the energetic reptile is kept on its back to prevent its escape. It exhales deeply into our photograph's direction. Philippe will later say it reminded him of a freshly unloaded crate of smelly fish.
The easy part stops there.
Leonardo, the volunteer from Rome, firmly maintains Battista on a blue cloth on the one of the center's operating table.
Aldo the Italian veterinarian puts two strings in the turtle's mouth, and pulls on the upper one, while a second volunteer pulls on the lower one, forcing Battista to open its mouth. The reptile has tremendous jaw muscles, it's really hard to keep it from closing.
A third volunteer, Sebastian, then picks up the yellow and rusted bolt cutter and stands ready for the signal. His task is to separate the barb from the base of the hook, and he does it swiftly and precisely.
Finally, Daniela uses a pair of pliers to pull out the remaining barb from the poor turtle's tong. It takes her several excruciatingly long minutes, and more than once her bare fingers come dangerously close to the turtles beak. At this point, the volunteers are not allowed to loosen their grip on the strings.
As the barb is pulled out, the relief can be seen on all the faces present in the room.
Battista is quickly transferred to one of the center's individual pools filled with salt water, where it frantically swims around, half-relieved and half-traumatized by the experience.
In the meantime, the OCEAN71 team reflects on the amazing scene that unfolded before their naked eyes, and looks at the many photographs that are here to prove how efficient and important the Lampedusa Rescue Center for Marine Turtles is.
Marine turtles are fundamental to the balance of the seas and oceans. These iconic animals have hardly changed in over 250 million years. Today, the seven existing species are threatened by overfishing, ingested plastic particles, and increasing boat traffic...
But hope is still permitted. A couple of years ago, while investigating the bluefin tuna industry in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, the OCEAN71 team discovered an incredible place: a surgical center for marine turtle on the notorious island of Lampedusa. Sadly, this small and arid Italian rock is mostly known for the role it played in the refugee crisis. It's the closest European piece of land to Africa. Today, most ignore that the majority of African refugees are directly transferred by boats to mainland Italy before reaching Lampedusa.
For almost 20 years, the center for marine turtles in Lampedusa has been successfully running thanks to Daniela Freggi, an energetic French-Italian lady who dedicated her life to better understanding the reptiles. Recently, the Octopus Foundation financially and logistically helped the center and has commissioned the OCEAN71 team to produce a series of media for the public, including pictures, articles, video clips, 3D models, and more. The goal is to show how incredible and important these animals are and the threats they are facing. Nobody knows the consequences we will suffer if they end up disappearing of our seas once and for all.