The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed nature to regain some foothold in the balance of nature, with some species reclaiming what is originally theirs, at least while a sizeable portion of humanity remains behind closed doors.
With a considerable portion of the human population in lockdown due to COVID-19, animals are making the most of this time; some are venturing into human communities out of curiosity and to forage, while others are taking the opportunity to copulate in peace, away from prying eyes.
Our seafaring turtle populations are no different.
With the closure of some beaches and reduced human activity, there is less trash in the oceans, less boat traffic, minimal fishing activity, less artificial lights... in short, a lot less humans around.
All this sets up the perfect stage for female turtles looking for places to build their nests.
Around the world, sea turtles are able to go onto beaches, build their nests and lay their eggs without interference. It is the nesting season for leatherback turtles now, and, according to a CNN report dated 18 April 2020, there are to date 71 leatherback nests and 1 loggerhead nest in Juno Beach, 60 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. (Loggerhead turtles normally arrive in May).
In Thailand, 11 leatherback nests have been found since last November—the highest number in 20 years. Compare this to the previous five years, during which no such nests were found.
“This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans. [...] “If we compare to the year before, we didn’t have this many spawn, because turtles have a high risk of getting killed by fishing gear and humans disturbing the beach,” said Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, in a The Guardian article.
As the eggs incubate within the nests, the reduced human activity on the beaches means that the nests won’t get trampled or disturbed, and the eggs won’t get stolen. And when the hatchlings emerge, they won’t be disoriented by artificial lights.
In a CBS News article, Sarah Hirsch, senior manager of research and data at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) in Florida, said that it would be a very good year for leatherbacks, adding that "Our world has changed, but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years and it's just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on."
However, what happens when lockdowns end and people start visiting the beaches?
"It just depends on the behaviour of people after the closures end," said Justin Perrault, LMC's Director of Research. He reiterated that people who visit the beaches should keep lights off when possible, keep their distance from marine animals and leave the beach the way they found it.
"Remember that we're not the only species out there," he said.