Sea Turtles Crawl Back From the Brink

Ten-year-old program transferring turtle eggs to protected locations for hatching is beginning to show results.

Efforts to protect sea turtles along Israel's coastline by transferring turtle eggs to protected locations for hatching is beginning to show results, according to a report from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority summarizing its 2010 efforts on behalf of the country's turtle population. The endangered loggerhead sea turtle, for example, is making a comeback.

During the second half of the past decade, researchers have found 138 sea turtle nests a year on average on Israel's shores, nearly 60 percent more than the first half of the decade. According to the director of the INPA's Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Mikhmoret, Yaniv Levy, these could be the first signs of success for a program that has been in existence for more than ten years. It is thought that there are now about 100 female loggerhead sea turtles reproducing along Israel's coast on a regular basis.

turtles -  Courtesy of Israel Nature Authority - February 6 2011
Courtesy of Israel Nature Authority

Nearly 200 injured or dead turtles wash up on Israel's shores every year. Over the past year, a record 49 turtles were treated at the turtle rescue center, some of which were then returned to the Mediterranean. It is thought, however, that many turtles that die off Israel's shores never wash up on the country's beaches. A large number of turtles are also snared in fishermen's hooks. In fact the hooks are thought to be responsible for 60 percent of injuries to turtles along the coast. Other turtles choke on plastic debris. Since the sea creatures can live for 50 years, some turtles are also harmed by accumulative exposure to sea pollution.

During the summer, researchers scan the beaches for female sea turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs.

Israel is not only home to the loggerhead turtles, which are at risk of extinction, but also to green turtles, which are also threatened. The researchers gather the eggs and bring them to a secure location, until they are ready to hatch. Over the past 26 years, 90,000 newly hatched sea turtles have been added to the sea population off Israel's coast. The green sea turtle remains particularly threatened and the turtle rescue center at Mikhmoret has made special efforts to hatch green turtles and give them a chance to grow to maturity before being sent to sea.