For the first time in at least a decade, a rare green sea turtle, a species at risk of extinction, has been spotted off the coast of Eilat.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority inspector Omri Yosef Omassi, who for the past decade has been photographing the rich variety of sea life in the Gulf of Eilat, finally met up with a green sea turtle this past weekend during a dive. He spotted the female turtle in an area that is to be designated a nature reserve, located near the port at which the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company unloads oil tankers. He named it Shani, after a conservation volunteer who was involved in the observation.
Every few years a female sea turtle comes to the adjacent beach to lay eggs, in an area that only recently was opened to the public after being closed for many years. The species generally spotted is the hawksbill sea turtle, itself a rare species, with less than 10 such turtles estimated living in the region. But the green sea turtle is even rarer, with only one or two thought to be in the area. In the Gulf of Eilat there have also been sightings of loggerhead sea turtles and leatherback sea turtles, a particularly large species.
Omassi said that he sent the photo of the green sea turtle to the INPA’s Sea Turtle Rescue Center, which keeps a database of photos that allows individual turtles to be identified by the unique characteristics of their shells. The center confirmed that Shani has never been spotted in this area before.
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The green sea turtle is an endangered species that has almost totally disappeared from the Mediterranean Sea. Only 10 to 20 nests of this species are found annually on the entire Mediterranean coast. The average green sea turtle weighs 150 kilograms and its shell is up to a meter long. The females lay their eggs four times each breeding season – always on the same beach – producing around 130 eggs each time.