Torches off or they won’t hatch
It is the final countdown: anytime between now and mid-August, the 70 loggerhead turtle eggs, nesting in Ġnejna Bay, should hatch.
The exact date cannot yet be determined, but the event will probably take place in the wee hours of the morning, when the temperature is at its lowest.
“They hatch when it’s dark as they are too sensitive to the sun and heat,” said the senior environment protection officer at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Carmen Mifsud.
As of this week, Mepa is appealing to the public to leave their torches, gas lamps and lanterns at home when they head to Ġnejna Bay. “We can’t risk having any lights near the nest because if they hatch, they will disorient themselves,” Ms Mifsud explained.
Once out of their eggs, the turtles “scurry in a frenzy” towards the open sea. “The horizon is their guide. If there is artificial light, it would put them on the wrong track,” she said. This essentially would mean they would lose the homing behaviour and, as a result, any surviving turtles would not come back in 30 years’ time to nest as they would not recognise the bay. There is also the slight concern that the eggs might not hatch at all – for all sorts of reasons.
“Maybe the fertilisation was not successful. Maybe the eggs got a bacterial infection from the sand. Or maybe seawater seeped in under the nest,” Ms Mifsud said.
Mepa is laying the ground to prevent a similar scenario to the night when the “mother turtle” lumbered on to the sandy beach to lay the eggs – amid camera flashes and jubilant onlookers.
No flashes and no mobile phones will be allowed and criminal proceedings could be taken in case of disturbances on the hatching night.
The cordoned off area will be extended to the sea so that the baby turtles can find their way to the water quicker.
“It is also imperative that people do not touch the baby turtles. Upon contact with human body temperature, they become inactive and it somehow affects their ‘frenzy’ to get to the sea and make them more susceptible to predators.”
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.