The turtle that doesn’t like to sit on her new eggs
“Where’s the turtle, so? Why isn’t it sitting on her eggs? Has it gone down for a swim? Will it be back?”
These are the sort of questions that officers guarding the turtle’s 70-odd egg nest in Ġnejna Bay are being asked every day by people flocking in to the site.
The nest has been a major attraction since a loggerhead turtle lumbered on to the sandy beach on Wednesday night and, amid camera flashes and jubilant onlookers, laid her eggs two metres away from the water’s edge.
Several site visitors, however, are expressing their surprise and disappointment that the “mother” turtle is nowhere to be seen. “The turtle is not a hen, of course. It’s a reptile. It just lays the eggs and then goes back to the sea. There is no maternal instinct,” said Sylvan Pace, a Mepa environment inspector guarding the nest.
On Friday, the environment authority issued an emergency conservation order prohibiting activities such as barbeques, camping and loud music from taking place on the beach – all of which can disturb turtle eggs.
The officers, who are on a shift-based surveillance, appreciate the fact that on the whole, the public has been cooperating and the nearby kiosk is even carrying out manual beach cleaning. Although there have been instances of resistance, these were mainly due to “lack of information”.
On Sunday they even had to contend with the Doughnut van, which drove in to the beach, with his loud megaphone blurting out “Doughnuts friski u tajbin” (good and fresh). The inspectors rushed over to point out the turtle’s nest and he promptly obliged by lowering the volume. “The 24-hour protection is not just to ward off curious people but also potential animal threats such as dogs and cats,” said Darren Stevens, Environment Directorate.
People living in the nearby boat houses, looking forward to the barbecue season, were not too keen on the facilities set up for the turtle eggs.
“I don’t know why all this fuss and then look at that ... the public toilets are unattended,” said one.
After they were laid the eggs were relocated a few metres up the beach because they were too close to the sea.
“Turtles generally lay their eggs further up the shore,” Ms Camilleri pointed out. However, the mother turtle was probably intimidated by the presence of people on the beach, she said.
The down side is that moving the eggs increases the chances of some of them not hatching, said Mr Stevens.
“But had the eggs not been moved, they’d have been washed away,” he added.
Turtles have been a protected species since 1992 with a minimum fine of €476 for each turtle caught, although penalties can increase to include jail time depending on the seriousness of the offence.
Nature Trust and the Resources Ministry are currently planning how to manage the eventual hatching, which is expected in mid-August.