It had seemed like just an ordinary day at the beach. But when someone dragged a turtle from the sea, the sense of excitement was tangible. Beachgoers rushed to catch a glimpse of the creature. Some even posed for selfies with it. However, most people would surely find what happened next despicable.
Each summer, Havana Beach in the Rmeileh region of Lebanon attracts countless visitors to its shores. And on one particular day in June 2016, beachgoers there were relaxing in the sun. However, then a strange commotion by the side of the water caught their attention.
According to onlookers on the beach that day, someone had dragged a loggerhead turtle from the waves. The turtle was then apparently thrown onto the beach as a crowd of witnesses began to form a circle around it. Sadly, though, the animal’s awful ordeal didn’t end there.
According to a report by local news website Green Area, some people then decided to use the helpless turtle for some sort of entertainment. They took snaps of the stranded creature and posed for selfies with it. But the poor turtle had to endure more still.
In an image obtained by Green Area, an adult can be seen lifting a child onto the turtle’s back – forcing him to step on its shell. Furthermore, according to Jason Mier of charity Animals Lebanon, someone also beat the animal with a stick.
The apparent brutal attack only ended when some brave individuals intervened, it seems. “We were not present when the turtle came to shore and have to rely on pictures and accounts of people who were present,” Mier told animal enthusiast website The Dodo in June 2016. “Luckily, other people were there who did care and stopped this and helped get the turtle to a safe area.”
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, loggerhead turtles are endangered. Threats to the marine animal’s decreasing population include modern fishing techniques, pollution and habitat damage. As a result, every loggerhead life is vital to the future of the species.
So, after it took the abused turtle in, Animals Lebanon moved the creature to an animal clinic. It was only then that experts were able to find out the true extent of the creature’s suffering.
“The turtle has a very evident spot on his skull, the very top of his head, where he has been hit,” Mier revealed to The Dodo. “There is a depression in the head where the bone has been damaged and sea water is able to enter the bone. A small amount of pressure around this area and the water seeps back out.”
And while it was possible that the turtle could have sustained his injuries before this incident, vets concluded that the wound had been caused recently. As a result, the Animals Lebanon team said they were taking animal cruelty allegations seriously. “[We are] assisting the Ministry of Agriculture and Civil Defense to make sure this sea turtle does not die from this unnecessary, avoidable, and illegal cruelty,” read a statement on the organization’s website.
Vets X-rayed the turtle to ensure that there was no further damage. They also placed him on antibiotics and took him to a special pool where they could monitor him. They would check him over after a fortnight to see how he was getting on.
“All that can be done is to give the antibiotics to help fight off any possible infection while it [the wound] is still new and [has] time to heal,” Mier explained to The Dodo. Then days after the rescue, he told The Independent, “He is in the pool and recovering, he is eating well when fed but not yet actively going to get food.”
The news shocked many of Animals Lebanon’s supporters on Facebook. “My heart breaks for these wonderful turtles who are paramount in keeping nature as it should be,” wrote one user. “There must be a severe punishment for these humans.”
The attention that the incident received prompted some of the beachgoers there that day to come forward to clear their names. One lady pictured at the scene claimed she had in fact been trying to help the turtle. She also added that the little boy who was photographed being held above the turtle didn’t make any actual contact with the animal.
Sadly, turtles in Lebanon have had a hard time recently. One month before the incident on Havana Beach, many dead turtles washed up between Sidon and Jiyeh. It is thought that they died because of pollution in the sea or dynamite fishing.
Furthermore, in 2015 humans picked up another turtle on a beach near Tyre in southern Lebanon. Experts believe the animal had come ashore to lay her eggs. However, before she could do so, beachgoers mishandled her and got in her way so that they could take photographs.
According to Mier, animal welfare has been largely overlooked in Lebanon until quite recently. But in the past decade, there has been a greater public awareness around protecting native species. So much so, in fact, that May 5, 2015, marked the first ever National Day of Sea Turtles in the country.
Activists hope the yearly celebration of marine turtles will raise awareness about their plight. They also hope to educate the public on the importance of the animal’s ecological role.
Sea turtles are in fact vital to keeping jellyfish numbers under control. The legions of their hatchlings which do not make it into the sea, meanwhile, actually provide essential nutrients for coastal dunes.
Luckily for the Havana Beach turtle, he is expected to make a full recovery. And when he does, his rescuers have confirmed that he will be released back into the ocean. Hopefully then, he can live out the rest of his days in peace and never have to meet a human again.