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Sea Turtles Take Back Beaches For Nesting, Hatchlings During Coronavirus Pandemic

KCBS Radio San Francisco logo KCBS Radio San Francisco 4/26/2020 Rebecca Corral
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This year's turtle nesting season is off to a strong start in some parts of the country.

And maybe, just maybe, the coronavirus pandemic will actually help nature along.

We already know life is rough for turtle hatchlings. Mother turtles lay up to 120 eggs at a time, several times a year. But only one of 1,000 survive to reproductive age.

"These eggs are buried beneath the sand surface," Loggerhead Marine Life Center Senior Manager of Research and Data Sarah Hirsch said. "Once these eggs hatch, those turtles have to make it up out of the sand, out of the nest and they have to make it down to the water. There are a bunch of predators out there waiting for them, raccoons, armadillos, coyotes. They also have to contend with human impact."

Hirsh said that's where, they hope, sheltering-in-place might make a difference.

Fewer humans on the beach means fewer obstacles for the turtles.

So far this year, the numbers of eggs are way up.

"We don't have the data yet to really be able to say for sure how these beach closures are impacting turtles, but we can speculate a little bit," Hirsch said.

Research that started before shelter-in-place orders took effect that showed female turtles were more likely to come out of the water to lay eggs, but turn back without laying them. That's because of lights, or people or even furniture on the shore.

For hatchlings, even a bonfire or light from a beach house will confuse a turtle that's supposed to be making its way to the ocean.

With many people staying home and away from the beach, this could be a very good year for leatherbacks, loggerheads and green turtles.

"The nesting season so far has been going great," Hirsch said. "The leatherbacks have been coming in strong. We have just over 100 nests already, almost double where we were at this point last year."

a turtle lying in the dirt: Chris McGrath/Getty Images © Provided by KCBS Radio San Francisco Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The loggerheads just started nesting, and Hirsch told KCBS Radio their numbers are also very high right now.

Hirsch figured the green turtle nesting will be strong, too, when that gets underway next month.

It's encouraging, given the danger hatchlings face when they dig their way out of the nests to begin the perilous crawl to the sea.

"We're hopeful there will be some positive out of this," Hirsch said.

Hirsch is hopeful if and when people see how the lack of human activity on the beach increased the turtle population, maybe the lesson will carry over into the non-pandemic future.


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