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Sea power brings hope of turtles hatching on St Helena

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Turtle tracks were spotted in Sandy Bay by Larry Thomas
Turtle tracks were spotted in Sandy Bay by Larry Thomas – who took this picture

The waves that pound against Sandy Bay Beach may have made it possible for green turtle eggs to hatch naturally on St Helena for the first time in decades.

A nest has been discovered where the sea has washed away old fortifications that were causing erosion of the beach. The find was made by Larry “Nails” Thomas.

Nests were also found in 2006 and 2011, but only a single hatchling was raised – in an artificial nest.

A 2015 turtle's nest, Sandy Bay. Picture by Larry Thomas
A 2015 turtle’s nest, Sandy Bay. Picture by Larry Thomas

Marine conservationist Elizabeth Clingham said her team at the island’s environment department were “super excited” by the discovery of the new nest.

“The beach seems far better suited to nesting,” she said. “And the turtles have nested early enough in the year that the temperatures on the island will support successful nesting.”

She said the same turtles might have been responsible for the earlier nesting attempts.

“I think that that this is possibly a turtle or turtles that hatched here 30-plus years ago, as they do nest every two to five years,” she said.

“Larry Thomas (Nails) made the initial discovery and contacted the marine section.  We responded and confirmed nesting status.”

turtle hatchling 2011They found clear tracks and disturbance in the sand showing where eggs had been buried.

Elizabeth said: “Residents of Sandy Bay talk of turtles nesting at on the beach in the Seventies near the lime kiln.

“The last recorded green turtle nesting attempts on St Helena were in April 2006 and April 2011.

“In 2006, as far we know, two turtles came ashore on Sandy Bay beach and laid eggs. One clutch of eggs was completely exposed; the other clutch were retrieved and placed into an artificial nest on the beach.”

“In 2011 there was significant evidence of turtle nesting activity on Sandy Bay beach again.”

Several “false” nests were found in 2011, the result of “desperate” attempts to find somewhere to lay eggs. One turtle was even photographed on the beach. But she was unable to reach a suitable nesting spot above sea level because of boulders used as a sea defence.

Sandy Bay in 1959 - with cannon on the beach. The wall in the foreground was washed away, allow the beach to regenerate
Sandy Bay in 1959 – with cannon on the beach. The wall in the foreground was washed away, allowing the beach to regenerate. Click the pic for a larger image

Two nests were destroyed by heavy seas but the eggs from a third were taken to an incubator inland, where they were carefully monitored under the guidance of expert Sam Weber, of Exeter University in the UK.

A single hatchling, named Joe, was the only survivor. On the evening of 26 September 2011 he was returned to the spot where his mother had laid her eggs months before.

Marine section staff stood by as little Joe – only six centimetres long – was encouraged to “walk” the few metres to the water, before the remnants of a wave dragged him into the sea.

The onlookers knew the hatchling’s chances of survival were slim.

But Elizabeth said conditions on the beach had now greatly improved – thanks to the forces of nature.

“An old fortification wall had caused the beach to erode away,” she said. “Over time the sea has demolished this wall, and the beach has regenerated quite significantly since 2008, after a major flood washed debris to the beach area.

“I am still concerned that the beach is still not ideal; however, it is better than it has ever been before in recent history.”

Read more from 2011: 
Turtles ‘desperate to nest’ – May 2011
Artificial nests made – including picture of green turtle on Sandy Bay Beach
Eggs destroyed by sea
Turtles hatch – first picture
St Helena’s first artificially incubated turtle released at Sandy Bay (St Helena Herald)

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