(TMU) — With tourism having ground to a halt in Thailand since the government implemented emergency measures to curb the coronavirus, its beaches have seen the biggest increase in nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in 20 years.
The news comes as just the latest signal that lockdowns being imposed across the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are giving the animal kingdom a much-needed respite with tangible results.
Thailand typically attracts anywhere from 30 to 40 million international tourists every year, making the tourism industry a mainstay of the country’s economy. However, the coronavirus lockdown and travel restrictions declared on March 9 have halted the flow of travelers, leaving beaches empty and giving nature a chance to take it back.
According to conservationists, authorities have found 11 turtle nests since last November—the highest number in two decades. In the past five years, not a single turtle net was found.
Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center, told Reuters:
“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.”
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest of all living turtles in the world. In Thailand, the reptiles are considered endangered while the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the WWF both list them as a vulnerable species.
Leatherbacks require soft and sandy beaches with broad access from the ocean for its nesting purposes. Females will emerge on to the beach and use their rear flippers to create a nest before depositing about 100 eggs into the nest before backfilling them to disguise them from predators. During the nesting season, females will repeat this process every 10 days. Females nest in intervals ranging from two to seven years.
Typically, the eggs are laid in dark and quiet areas which are difficult to find when beaches are flooded with tourists. The eggs are also sought-after by people who will dig into the nests to steal the eggs.
Conservationists fear that due to the unprecedented rapid pace of global climate change, leatherbacks and other marine turtles will be unable to adapt. In the case of leatherbacks, which have long life-spans and mature over a very long period of time, the impact on population numbers could be severe.
The nests found in Thailand aren’t the only success story about sea turtles since the global pandemic began wreaking havoc for human societies and giving animals space to live their natural lives.
Last month in India eastern coast, over 475,000 endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles were able to dig nests and lay their eggs. Authorities estimate that the turtles are on course to lay some sixty million eggs this year alone.
Early this month in Brazil, nearly 100 hawksbill sea turtles successfully hatched on a beach in the Brazilian town of Paulista, Pernambuco.
On Monday, The Mind Unleashed also reported that the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida has already counted 69 sea turtle nests, a high number for so early in the season. The majority of the nests belonged to leatherbacks.