A 20-year-old turtle was released back into the sea in Golden Bay on Friday morning following ten months of medical treatment after it was found with a fishing hook stuck in its mouth and a fishing line trapped in its stomach.

Yvonne, an adult male loggerhead turtle, was rescued by a fisherman in Marsalforn last September and taken to environmental NGO Nature Trust Malta for treatment, in a bid to save its life.

A tangled fishing line was wrapped around it, a fishing hook was stuck in its mouth and it had ingested part of the fishing line, which was trapped in its stomach.

"We found it was also undernourished. It wasn't eating because the fishing line was causing discomfort in its stomach," Nature Trust Malta CEO Vince Attard explained.

"But we couldn't simply pull out the fishing line, because it would have harmed it even more. That is why treatment took so long."

The turtle was put under the care of veterinarian Anthony Gruppetta, who would perform routine checkups on it and instructed Nature Trust volunteers on how to nurse it slowly back to health.

The moment Yvonne was released back into the sea in Golden Bay. Video: Jonathan Borg.

"The process demanded a lot of perseverance, but the turtle slowly started to build back an appetite and gain more weight, and it started to become more lively in the water," Attard said.

"But it was only now that we felt it was safe enough to release it back into the sea. We couldn't release it before May because the water would have been too cold.

"Also, some fishing line wounds in its head had not yet fully healed. We always wait for wounds to heal completely. Otherwise, when the turtle is in the sea, other fish and marine organisms nibble at the wound and make it worse."

Loggerhead turtles have a life expectancy of over 60 years and are fairly common in the Mediterranean, but thousands of them don't live long.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that as many as 200,000 of them are caught annually in commercial fishing activity. Thousands of others die after ingesting plastic, which they perceive to be jellyfish, or because they are hit by boat propellers.

In 25 years of environmental work and activism, Nature Trust Malta has rescued, nursed and released back into the sea, around 350 turtles.

Two weeks ago the NGO released another turtle in Gozo. Attard said another one is presently waiting its turn, but needs to gain some more weight before it can brave the water again. And there are ten other sea turtles currently undergoing treatment.

Attard said those turtles that are found tangled in fishing lines and have no wounds are generally ready to be released back into the sea shortly after they are rescued, but others take as long as three years to recover completely.

"The turtles in the worst condition are those hit by boat propellers and those who lose a flipper, either to a propeller accident or while struggling to break free from a fishing net," he said.

"Of the ten we are currently treating, three have been hit by a propeller and their wounds heal extremely slowly. A couple of others have lost or bruised front flippers and we try to save at least one front flipper on each turtle. Because without front flippers, they won't survive."

Yvonne and all the other turtles are microchipped before they are released back into the sea so other European marine NGOs can track their medical history if they are ever rescued again from some peril.

The turtles that are released back into the sea with only one flipper are also infused with a transmitter containing a GPS tracker so that Nature Trust is able to track their movement over a period of some 18 months.

"We released one such turtle a few months ago. Her name was Tama (Hope). She was almost dead when we rescued her and she wouldn't eat for six months. But we saved her," Attard recalled.

"And when we released her, we could notice from the GPS tracker that she did quite the tour. She went to Sicily, then all the way up to Italy, then back down to Malta, Tunisia, Libya and Sardegna. Her movement was perfectly normal.

"She would swim long distances for three days, then stop in one place for a whole week. That's what all turtles do. They swim long distances until they find a place where they can stop and eat."

Attard said another turtle took some three years to recover from a chronic lung infection caused by plastic it ingested. He explained how turtles are more likely to ingest foreign bodies because unlike mammals and like all reptiles, they do not chew food. They swallow it immediately.

This causes many turtles to ingest a lot of plastic which they perceive as jellyfish, and fish hooks, which frequently cause internal bleeding.

The exercise was also supported by ERA, which provided financial and technical assistance.

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