RESCUED SEA TURTLES RELEASED OFF MOOREA

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, April 25) - The Te Mana O Te Moana Association returned five sea turtles to the ocean after an average four months of treatment at its Moorea center restored them to good health.

Four of the turtles had been wounded by poachers' spear guns, while the fifth had suffered from malnutrition, according to the association, whose name means ocean spirit in Tahitian.

The release of the turtles comes under the South Pacific effort to protect sea turtles, with the Pacific Regional Environment Program in Samoa having made 2006 the "Pacific Year of the Sea Turtle." The goal of this effort launched on March 1 is to "increase conservation of these ancient Pacific voyagers."

The health of all five turtles released off Moorea corresponded to strict criteria before they were returned to the ocean, each one of them measuring more than 40 centimeters (nearly 16 inches) in length, the association said. They had also demonstrated they could find necessary food and swim about normally. That means the turtles are sufficiently matured to fend off any eventual attacks from predators.

The releasing of the turtles "are privileged moments to make the public aware of a need to protect turtles", said Nicolas Leclerc, project coordinator for the association. But despite public awareness campaigns from government officials, sea turtles in French Polynesia must always fear humans, he said.

"The majority of them that we receive have been wounded by spear guns, so it means there is indeed poaching going on," Leclerc said. "There's still a part of the population that does not know, or does not want to know, that they (the sea turtles) are protected animals."

The association's Moorea center regularly invites groups of school children to attend a returning of healthy turtles to the ocean in a continued effort to educate young people, Leclerc said.

The Te Mana O Te Moana Association's center was set up in February 2004. Since then some 100 sea turtles have been treated there, with some 20 returned to the ocean.

April 26, 2006

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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