Rome: despair as turtle eggs fail to hatch on beach

Sea turtle had buried eggs on Torvaianica beach near Rome.

When a loggerhead sea turtle buried its eggs in the sands of Torvaianica beach near Rome in June there was much excitement among conservationists, amazed that a turtle had travelled so far north up the Italian peninsula to lay its eggs.

The event, filmed in the early hours of 23 June by a member of the Italian coast guard, saw a massive operation swing into place to safeguard the site, located on a popular beach south of the capital.

The area was immediately cordoned off and was monitored around the clock by 60 volunteers, overseen by Tartalazio, the regional branch of the association that works to protect sea turtles, and the Anton Dohrn research institute in Naples.

A webcam was set up and there was even a plan to turn off the lights of the apartments behind the site to prevent the emerging baby turtles from being disoriented and taking the wrong direction to the sea.

Loggerhead sea turtles are endangered species that live in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. They usually nest in southern Italy but have been moving up through the peninsula since 2016, reports Reuters.

Site where turtle laid eggs at Torvaianica. Photo REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane.

A provisional expected arrival date some time around the mid-August holiday of Ferragosto, with hopes of up to 100 eggs hatching from the site which experts said had the "perfect characteristics" - sheltered, far from the sea, and in a slightly sloping dune with a good temperature and easily drained by rainwater.

Every day hundreds of beach-goers lined up on either side of the special corridor in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the magical sight of baby turtles poking their way through the sand and shuffling into the sea.

Tartalazio waited a further week before deciding to investigate the reason why the baby turtles had not made an appearance, gently excavating the nesting site in the middle of the night, to avoid the heat that could have damaged the eggs, and using only red lights which turtles do not perceive.

The excitement of 64 days and nights soon turned to sadness however as the volunteers discovered just 15 eggs, all of which were unusually small and empty.

A statement from Tartalazio attributed the phenomenon "exclusively to the conditions of the mother and not to the local situation," adding that experts will study the eggs to try and ascertain what prevented them from being fertilised.

Thanking the volunteers for their hard work, the conservationists also paid tribute to the turtle:

"There remains the wonderful adventure of a turtle who, in this summer of social distancing, managed to gather more than 60 volunteers who watched day and night, and to fascinate hundreds and hundreds of citizens, big and above all small, on the theme of sea defense and of its inhabitants."

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Address 00040 Torvaianica, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy

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Rome: despair as turtle eggs fail to hatch on beach

00040 Torvaianica, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy