Tuesday, September 27

The last turtles are released from the exceptional nesting of last summer on the Costa del Sol

Determined in search of the waves, although at times the sea returned them to shore, 39 turtles met the Mediterranean for the first time this Friday. They are the last remaining on land from the exceptional sunset that occurred on the night of August 3-4, 2020 on a beach slightly further west, in Los Boliches (Fuengirola). That night, a loggerhead turtlecaretta caretta) chose a tourist beach on the Costa del Sol to spawn. Of the 72 eggs it laid, 60 survived. All but six have ended up in the sea.

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That was an event, because there was no recorded precedent for a loggerhead turtle nesting so far west of the Alboran Sea. Experts attribute it to a process of colonization of new areas of the Mediterranean, probably linked to the warming of its waters. During fifty days that summer, dozens of volunteers took turns ensuring the safety of the nest (transferred from Los Boliches to Cabopino, in Marbella, due to the best conditions on the beach) until they were born. Then others took over: in the year that followed, it was the specialists from the Aquarium of Seville and the CEGMA of Algeciras who have taken care of them. Until this weekend.

A year after emerging from their shell on Cabopino beach, the 39 are already plying the sea, their only natural habitat, in which they must from now on with no defense other than their shell and their expertise to avoid predators. “We have mixed feelings: on the one hand, we believe that we have done a good job, but we will miss them,” he explained. Susana Montero, Director of Education at the Aquarium of Seville.

They all have a subcutaneous microchip that will allow them to be identified if any of them return, alive or dead, to shore. Five also have attached a geolocator with an antenna. The objective of the Ministry of Ecological Transition is to monitor their movements in the coming months and verify, in particular, if they cross the Strait to the Atlantic or remain in the Mediterranean, as is foreseeable.

A tutored growth to overcome the first year

During this year the turtles have grown and fattened to weigh approximately one kilo. “They have become strong,” he sums up. Carolina Fernandez, veterinarian at the Andalusian Marine Environment Management Center (CEGMA) in Algeciras, where they have supervised the growth of the majority. They have been fed on mussel porridge, fish and microalgae until a few months ago, when they began to give them fish to be recognized in the sea; they have undergone regular mouth and fin examinations, in water with optimal temperature and quality, and under ultraviolet light, because when they are young they spend a lot of time sunning themselves; They have learned to swim and dive with no enemies in sight.

“Now is the time for them to face predators, but many more will survive, because we have avoided the risks of hatching and the first months “Susana Moreno trusts. This year it has allowed them to pass the first big screen. Without help, it is likely that none of those that hatched on the night of August 3, 2020 were alive. It is estimated that, under natural conditions, only one in a thousand reaches the age of 20, their adulthood. It is too early to know how many of the Malaga turtles will do it, but for now they have passed the most critical period of their lives in a controlled environment, safe from predators that in the sea would have taken advantage of the tenderness of their shell to feast on.

Fernández tells the case of one of them: it did not hatch naturally, it was rescued from the nest and then had problems eating. “It has required a lot of pampering”, but both this and two other “rescued” have survived. “That now it has hit the lug, leaving others behind, it looks so strong, it excites you.”

Human threats

The turtles will now face natural threats, but also human ones. “We see how the impact of garbage on turtles has increased in the last ten years: at the digestive level, they ingest the garbage, and at the external level they become entangled and we have to amputate their fins,” laments Fernández. Entanglement is the first cause of human origin to enter the CEGMA.

Hence, the value of the release as an educational act. Young people from four first-year ESO classes from IES Las Dunas de Las Chapas participated in the release. “At that age is when complex ecological processes are most absorbed. It is about printing raising awareness. The kids learn the causes of such strange behavior, “he explains. Angel Rodriguez, from the Aldea Educational Program of the Ministry of Education.

They also released some volunteer turtles from the Asociación Pro Dunas. Over two hundred took turns guarding the nest last year. They signed up, received the official label and carried out surveillance 24 hours a day, in any condition. “The Junta de Andalucía was reluctant to trust an association for custody, but it turned out very well,” he recalls today Susanne stamm, president of the naturalist association. “Sometimes we had to put bags to protect the nest from rising tides,” says Barbara Dupont, one of those volunteers, who declares herself a “fan” of turtles. He remembers with emotion the nocturnal hatching, to which he quickly went from home. “You could see the grooves in the sand, because when the eggs break, it moves.”

The deployment in and around Cabopino beach is worthy of a great event. Environmental agents, Civil Protection, volunteers, technicians and lifeguards participate in the release. Joy dominates, but a feeling of an empty nest also floats in the atmosphere among those who have helped these little turtles since their mother, perhaps slightly lost, chose a tourist beach in Fuengirola to spawn. Maybe one day they will meet one of them again. Sea turtles have “natal philopatry”: when they reach laying age, they recognize the beach where they were born and return to it to spawn. To prove it, at least another twenty years must pass.