Rare endangered leatherback turtles return to deserted beaches to nest

Yvonne O'Halloran

While people are advised to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic, a vulnerable sea creature that was here for millions of years before humans, seems to be making a comeback. Rare leatherback turtles have been found nesting on beaches in Florida and Thailand in numbers that have not been seen for decades. Experts believe this is due to the desertion of beaches across the world.

76 nests were discovered over 10-mile stretch in Florida in just 2 weeks which was a significant increase on the previous year. The largest number of leatherback nests in two decades have been also been found on beaches in Thailand.

“This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans,” Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said of the 11 nests they found.

“If we compare to the year before, we didn’t have this many spawn, because turtles have a high risk of getting killed by fishing gear and humans disturbing the beach,” he  added.

Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtles. They are considered endangered in Thailand, and listed as a vulnerable species globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They like to lay their eggs in dark and quiet areas which is sparse when thousands of tourists fill beaches.

The percentage of nests that successfully hatch at least one egg for leatherbacks is less than 1%. Scientists estimate that only about one in a thousand hatchlings survive to maturity. It is believed that the biggest threats to leatherback turtles are getting caught in the nets of fishermen, the illegal harvesting of eggs and turtles, coastal development that can destroy nesting sites, and plastic trash along with other forms of pollution. Climate change also plays a significant role and as the ocean temperature rises, ocean acidification can increase, causing marine ecosystems to collapse.

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