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Update 2: Gnejna turtle eggs relocated, site placed under guard

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina (who did not use artificial light)

Updated - Adds statement by light pollution awareness group

Seventy nine eggs laid by a turtle on Gnejna beach during the night have been carefully relocated to a safer place within the bay by foreign-trained experts overseen by Mepa and Nature Trust. The area has been cordoned off and will be under 24-hour security.

There was joy and amazement in the bay when the large turtle lumbered up in the middle of the sandy beach to lay its eggs, a scene not witnessed for decades.

A small crowd watched as the turtle dug a hole, laid its eggs and then returned to the sea.

People who have boathouses in the bay or man the kiosks said they had not witnessed such a scene for decades.

Such was the rarity of the event that policemen and experts from Mepa and Nature Trust were summoned to witness it . They ensured that the turtle was not interrupted. A guard was placed over the site until Mepa decided whether the eggs should be moved to a safer place.

EGGS RELOCATED

An expert told timesofmalta.com that the eggs needed to be relocated because they were too close to the sea and risked being washed away if the sea was rough. Furthermore, since there was clay under the sand, there was a risk that the site would overheat, reducing the possibility of successful hatching.The site was also in the most heavily used part of the bay.

The eggs were transferred according to a process which lays down how the eggs  are placed in the new location.

The cordoned off siteThe cordoned off site

FIRST RECORDED NESTING IN DECADES

Gnejna and Golden Bay used to be popular for nesting by turtles in the past, but Vince Attard, executive president of Nature Trust said the last recorded nesting was in 1960 in Golden Bay. In that case the female was killed and the eggs were stolen.

Josette Bianco, who happened to be at Gnejna said she had been sitting on an armchair at 10.30 p.m. when she saw the turtle coming up a short distance away .

"We are surprised, we did not know what it was at first. It went close to the paddle boats, some two metres up from the sea, where it started digging into the sand. It then laid its eggs, covered them and returned to the sea within an hour. The turtle was very calm despite the flash photography. It was simply amazing."

Turtles live many years and some species mature at the age of 35. They lay their eggs on the same beach on which they were born.  After about 60 days the hatchlings break out of their shells, dig their way out of the sand and make their way to the sea. 

MEPA WARNS AGAINST DISTURBANCE

in a statement, Mepa said this case was the first confirmed sea turtle nesting event in Malta after a century, although other unconfirmed records of such events have been reported from other beaches in the last 50 years.

"Marine turtles are endangered species and are strictly protected by a number of national and international legislation. In fact, Article 12 of the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, together with the Regulation 25 of the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitat Protection Regulations (L.N. 311 of 2006, as amended) state that the deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration, is prohibited."

MEPA said it is taking the necessary action to assess the situation and evaluate the best approach to be taken in response to this event. Furthermore Mepa is coordinating with the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment; the Malta Police Force; and officials within the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs on the best course of action.

"The public is reminded that because of the importance of the eggs in question, taking of pets and music should be avoided at all times, until further notice. Deliberate disturbance to the eggs in question is also strictly prohibited," it warned. 

To report any similar events or require more information please contact MEPA on 99210404 / 99381811 or [email protected]

EXCESSIVE LIGHTING

The Light Pollution Awareness Group said turtle hatchlings rely on their instinctive attraction to light from the moon or stars reflected by the sea to steer them away from darker inland areas. Lighting on or near the beach will confuse them and cause them to head towards the wrong direction, where they die from exhaustion, dehydration or risk being squashed by cars in the Ġnejna parking area.
Seawater has a higher reflectivity than land and, for creatures that have evolved to hatch in complete darkness, the ability to head towards the light means that they automatically head towards the sea.  Heading for darkness would result in death so they have adapted accordingly to head towards the light of the stars reflected by the sea.
This behaviour has been verified in real life in areas where many sea turtles nest, such as the sandy beaches of Florida (USA), where legislation has been enacted to protect turtle hatchlings from light pollution.
As a result the LPAG recommended that all lighting which is not required for safety or security should be switched off, and any remaining lights falling under this category are carefully shielded and directed such that no light falls onto the sandy beach itself.

Note - The person seen in the video did not actually touch or disturb the eggs. He was an expert who was sifting the sand to confirm that eggs had been laid.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20060416/environment/turtle-nesting-in-the-maltese-islands.57024

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