Turtles first hatched under 1992 protection law could be returning

Loggerhead turtle regeneration attributed to change in classification, says Nature Trust coordinator

Do not disturb! Bathers are warded off a nesting site of one of the turtles
Do not disturb! Bathers are warded off a nesting site of one of the turtles

A decision made back in 1992 to reclassify three species of turtles – the loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles – has finally started to bear tangible results, Nature Trust’s site coordinator Angelique Lofaro says.

With the island’s second confirmed nesting of a loggerhead turtle this year alone, the 25-year-old legal notice that prohibited any person from attempting to kill or sell turtles is now playing a direct role in the species regeneration.   

“When their status was changed, it prohibited fishermen from being able to catch them and sell them at fish markets. This allowed them to regenerate themselves; right now, we are probably seeing the ones that were born 25-30 years ago coming back to nest. Because on average it takes them around 20 years to mature enough to start mating and nesting,” Lofaro said.

And it is not just the protection from the law that has allowed turtles safe return to Maltese beaches. Lofaro attributes the increased presence of these turtles to Malta’s sewage filtration system, an advanced treatment system that has pushed out less contaminated sewage out at sea in recent years. “Our beaches are also relatively clean, we don’t have rubbish covering our sand, at least not to the extent that it would repel turtles from nesting. So it’s the cumulative effect of a lot of things together,” she said.

Malta currently has two loggerhead turtle nests – the first was confirmed back on 30 March at Ramla Bay in Gozo, the second on 5 July at Golden Bay in Malta. Lofaro said the nest in Gozo was particularly exciting because for the first time Nature Trust Malta was able to identify the location of the nest.

“We’ve known for several years that there were nests in Gozo, however, we could never confirm the location. Either because by the time people called it was too late and all traces of the nests had disappeared, or because we simply didn’t have enough volunteers to monitor Gozo at the time,” Lofaro said.

The incubation period on average for loggerhead turtles is around 50 to 60 days, but from previous cases on the island, Lofaro said it was on the latter end – around two months. “We approach it as if it was a normal human pregnancy and divide it into three trimesters. The second trimester is where the temperature of the nest determines whether they’re boys or girls. If the temperature is higher than 29 degrees, then the nest will be predominately girls, however, if it’s lower than 29 degrees then it’ll be predominately boys and if it’s around the 29-degree mark it’ll be an even mix.”

In a more quiet part of the beach managed by the neighbouring hotel, the enclosure for the eggs is smaller
In a more quiet part of the beach managed by the neighbouring hotel, the enclosure for the eggs is smaller

Lofaro said that the third trimester was the most important because anything could disturb the hatchlings, who would by then have started to breathe  through their shell. “They’ll be full-formed, but would need more time to grow before they can hatch. That’s when we should avoid any type of vibrations on the beach – because if there is music with a strong bass, for example, they won’t realise it’s music: they’ll think the egg next to them is hatching and that would cause a chain reaction, making them hatch prematurely.”

Thankfully this year, Lofaro said the nest in Malta ended up on the quiet side of Golden Bay, a patch that was managed by the Radisson Hotel. “It’s quieter on that side of the beach because there’s less movement – this allowed us to build a smaller enclosure than we usually would.” She said that in previous cases, they would build an enclosure with a three-metre radius around the nest, mostly to protect it from stray balls.

“What people need to understand is we can all coexist. Abroad, especially in places like Cyprus, you sometimes see hundreds of nests along one beach; and they all co-exist together – the people are used to it and respect the regulations. In Malta, it’s still relatively new, so while abroad they would do a white grid but not an enclosure, in Malta until we are still getting used this.”

Lofaro is hopeful that the recent trend of visiting turtles will become a regular occurrence. “Despite the hard work – because we’re all volunteers and do this in our spare time – we really hope that we’ll see more nests in the years to come.”

Nature Trust Malta is expecting the eggs to hatch between 23 August and 2 September and is consistently in need of volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering should email [email protected] Volunteers under 18, will need a parent or guardian present who is also volunteering

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