I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be living on a Mediterranean island, working as a professional writer and get the opportunity to quote the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song in a headline, but today dear readers, is the day. Former tween Miss W would be so pleased with her future self! I jest of course, but here in Ibiza right now, turtle power is trending. For the first time in history, two mama loggerhead sea turtles have come ashore in Ibiza to lay their eggs – and they may not be the last…
Now just to be clear, these are not the first ever turtles to grace our shores, and probably not even the first ever loggerhead sea turtles (also known as the caretta caretta turtle) to shimmy themselves up on the sand. They are the first ever loggerhead sea turtles to nest in Ibiza – and this distinction is important. You see, while the breed (which is on the road to becoming endangered) is certainly known to hang out in the Mediterranean Sea, they are not known to breed in the Balearics. Environmental scientists are putting their new choice of breeding habitat down to – yep, you guessed it – climate change and the rising temperature of the sea.
This is of course, a very sad state of affairs but one part of me is just a little bit excited (sorry earth!) because in 60 days or so we’re going to have a clutch of little hatchlings (that’s the collective noun) scuttling out to sea and it’s going to be so amazing to watch! I already have goosebumps at the thought – it’s even bringing a little tear to my eye. We’re going to have baby turtles! Have you ever seen a hatchling? I have – there’s something so simultaneously enchanting and creepy about them at the same time, with their little beady eyes and tiny dinosaur like faces and webby little arms and legs. And as they’re batting their way out of their eggs… cue the heart melting, because it’s the closest thing you’ll ever see to a baby dinosaur hatching – not to mention way better than those plastic eggs you whack into a jug of water and wait for them to change.
OK so here’s what we know. The first mama turtle came ashore on Playa d’en Bossa last week – no doubt following the throb of the music from Ushuaïa as the Swedish House Mafia reunited, where she laid 58 eggs. Once the eggs were discovered, they were (safely and professionally) relocated to an undisclosed location, where they can safely gestate. Just a few days later, mama turtle number two made a beeline for Es Cavallet – clearly she had more refined tastes than her friend. Here, she laid a whopping 102 eggs (that’s actually pretty normal for a loggerhead sea turtle) and they’ve been kept in situ, however the regional environmental ministry has provided fencing to keep them protected. There are also volunteers on turtle watch, 24 hours a day, to ensure nothing happens to these precious little babies before they hatch.
The government has asked all members of the public (and especially the media – hence my use of stock and ‘borrowed’ photos) to stay away from the eggs, not to touch them and not to use flash photography anywhere near them as artificial light has been proven to cause premature hatchling death – hence the need for volunteers at the fences (there’s always one, isn’t there?). They’ve also said they expect to find more turtle egg chambers in the days and weeks to come. If you do happen to stumble across a turtle, its tracks, its nest or its eggs on your morning walk (or walk of shame – it seems turtles like to come ashore and lay eggs in the middle of the night), you should call the emergency services on 112 to ensure they get the protection they need. Whatever you do, don’t step on the tracks (they look a bit like tyre tracks – see above) as their may be eggs beneath them.
The sea surrounding Ibiza has been suffering due to the dramatic decline in turtle population in recent years – this year’s jellyfish endemic is living proof. Hopefully with mama turtles adopting Ibiza as their breeding ground, and with this clutch of more than 150 hatchlings starting their life off in the Balearic Sea, we just might be able to imagine a future where you can jump off a boat and not worry about one of those slimy suckers grazing and burning your skin on your descent into the water. Heroes in a half shell indeed. And before any environmentalists jump down my throat, I’m well aware this is not not going to make up for climate change. I’m just saying, it could be a nice change. (Side note: I don’t actually swim and I rarely go on boats due to a fear of the water, so I’m just repeating what I’ve been told).
So now, we’re on egg watch, while making lists of Renaissance artists to name each little hatchling after, Splinter style, once they pop out of their eggs at the end of the season. When the baby turtles do eventually hatch, it’s important to know that we should NOT try to help them get to the sea – they need to do this themselves to build the strength they need for the big swim into the Balearic beyond. If we pick them up and pop them straight in water, it’s highly likely they won’t have the strength to survive – so hands off. Or if for some reason, you find a baby turtle who’s lost his way from his brothers and sisters, keep it protected in a cool, dark place and call 112 who will come to the rescue. Hopefully the good volunteers of Ibiza will be out in full force to ensure this doesn’t happen.
I can’t help but wonder if those two mama turtles are out there right now, swimming around Ibiza looking for the next best place to nest. I bet they’re hoping for a brighter future for their babies – they probably long for a place where there isn’t any plastic, where superyachts don’t drop anchor on their hangouts, where jetskis and seabobs don’t disturb their calm waters, and where humans don’t trap them in fishing nets or throw all kinds of trash in their homes. We might not speak the same language, but right now, I think we all want the same thing… viva la tortuga!
Image of turtle tracks and camouflaged mama turtle below borrowed from CREM Cap Blanc in Ibiza, so you know what to look out for – the animal recuperation centre who will help take care of the hatchlings!