WATCH: Baby Sea Turtles Hatch, Take Their First Steps

Israel Park Authority works to save three endangered sea turtle species

A sea turtle returns to the sea in Thailand on July 26, 2017.
A sea turtle returns to the sea in Thailand on July 26, 2017. ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/REUTERS

The sea turtle hatching season is beginning in Israel. Turtle hatchlings make their way back to the Mediterranean Sea from shore, where they hatched from their eggs.

The three turtle species found in the Mediterranean are under threat of extinction. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is responding, by locating their eggs and moving them to safety in protected nature reserves. In addition to the dangers facing young turtles in nature, urban development also poses considerable risks. Of the three species of Mediterranean sea turtles, most in Israel are brown and green. Because all three of these species face extinction, they are all protected by Israeli law.

Watch Baby sea turtles taking their first steps

Hatchlings leaving the nest are drawn towards the brightest light in the area, which in urban coasted areas often means artificial lighting. This means that rather than heading towards the sea, hatchlings may head in the opposite direction.

Yaniv Levy, director the Parks Authority’s sea turtle rescue center, explained that sometimes, the exhausted young turtles die the same night they hatch. Those that manage to survive the night are at risk of dying the following morning from sun exposure, by being run over by vehicles, from predatory animals of various kinds, or due to plastic bags and other debris that become death traps.

However, on deserted beaches and those managed as nature reserves, the moon, stars and sea foam are brightest and the hatchlings make their way towards these natural beacons of light.

Once the eggs hatch, the breading season, which begins in May, comes to a close. Female turtles leave the sea at night and go to shore where they dig a hole in the sand and deposit anywhere from 70 to 140 eggs. The female then covers the hole and returns to the sea. About two months later, if all goes well, the eggs hatch and the hatchlings go back to the Mediterranean, where they will live out their lives. As part of their evolutionary adaptation, sea turtles left land and began to live in the marine environment. However, this process never completely ended, and the turtles still maintain two characteristics revealing their land-based origins: they breathe air, and need land in order to breed.

But these two characteristics make the turtles highly vulnerable. According to the Israeli Parks Authority, human activity presents most of these dangers.

Since the mid-1980s, the Israel Parks Authority has been working to protect the eggs and hatchlings. During this year’s egg laying season, just as in previous years, the Parks Authority inspectors survey Israel’s shoreline every morning looking for nests created the night before and move the eggs to protected nature reserves along the sea. After about two months, the eggs hatch and the young turtles head from the protected beaches to the sea.

But some of the eggs are overlooked, so the Parks Authority has asked that members of the public remain alert during this time of year. If they encounter young sea turtles, they are asked to report it to the authorities by dialing *3639. The Parks Authority requested not to take flash pictures of the turtles or to shine lights at them as this could temporarily blind them at a critical time.