Sea Turtle Drowned at Sea

Date May 16, 2021

On 15 May, 2021, travellers on a boat heading out to the fabulous reefs at Singapore’s Pulau Hantu thought they had encountered something special – a pair of sea turtles mating. So they inched closer for a better look.

As they got closer, and tried to make sense of what they were looking at, it became clear that that was not the kind of sea turtle sighting anyone would wish for.

The pronounced supracaudal and overlapping scutes on the carapace of this sea turtle identify it as a critically endangered Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata). It is one of eight sea turtle species that can be found throughout the world.

Roy Kairos shared the above video. Everyone was deeply saddened to learn that what they thought were a pair of mating turtles was actually a sea turtle that likely drowned when it became entangled in an abandoned gill net.

Gill nets are a type of non-selective fishing gear that is usually deployed from a boat. Even in the photo above, the presence of this gill net may not be obvious. When submerged in the water, gill nets are almost invisible to marine creatures. Made of nylon, these nets never degrade, and continue to kill anything that swims into, and becomes entangled with it. Gill nets are a major source of mortality for all sea turtle species throughout the world. The short tail of this individual suggests that this individual was a female.


Kairos communicated with diver Wade Pearce about the entangled sea turtle that same day. Pearce returned to the site in the afternoon with the intention to remove it. He shares, “The net was around 100 metres long, and was anchored tightly to the seabed. The turtle’s head had already been severed by the tangled net. Once I took the turtle carcass off I couldn’t hold the net up because it was too heavy.” Pearce collected a tissue sample for researchers at the National University of Singapore, and the rest of the carcass was left adrift.

Video courtesy: Wade Pearce

Diver Othman Ahmad first sighted the net on April 23. He explained that he was at a depth of 15 metres when he encountered the net, and estimated that it was about 50-100 metres in length. As he was running out of air, he was not able to investigate more and returned to the surface. Concerned about the damage that it could cause, he called the MPA Hotline to make a report.

Hawksbill turtles have been sighted by divers at Pulau Hantu on several locations. Check out our sea turtle videos that date back to 2006!

Sea turtles depend on living coral reefs and healthy shores to lay their eggs – so we need to protect and share these habitats! In Singapore, we are very fortunate to be visited by nesting females. Wildlife Reserves Singapore and NParks are working together to give sea turtles in Singapore a fighting chance at survival. Hawksbill turtles can live up to 60 years, and females may nest every 1-5 years.

Gratitude to Roy Kairos for sharing the photos and video of the sea turtle that was found at Pulau Hantu on May 15, 2021.

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