This year's turtle hatching in Brazil might have had fewer spectators than previous years, but the annual season rolls on despite the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Over 200 critically endangered hawksbill turtles, along with almost 90 green turtles, were born this month at a beach in Paulista, Brazil’s Pernambuco state, according to a statement by the City Hall of Paulista.
The first batch of tiny hatchlings was welcomed by a huge crowd of cheering spectators on Saturday, March 14. The second, however, had a much quieter affair on the following weekend. Since the government has ordered new social-distancing measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, the event was only observed by a few researchers from the local Urban Sustainability Center.
But despite the lack of festivities, their welcome into the world was a huge success.
“In all, 291 sea turtles were born on the coast of Paulista in 2020, with 87 green turtles and 204 hawksbill turtles. This time, due to preventive measures against the new coronavirus, the population was unable to closely monitor the birth,” concluded Herbert Andrade, environmental manager at Paulista, said in the announcement.
There could be more to come too. Local authorities said there’s still a number of nests left on the beach that are expected to hatch in April.
Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are considered a critically endangered species under the IUCN Red List. Their main threats are humans, whether that's in the form of fishing and poaching or habitat destruction from infrastructure development and beach-goers.
Known for their colorful shells and sharp beaks, the species has a wide range across the globe, but they are most at home in tropical reefs of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. The species’ hatchings are smaller than the palm of a hand and can grow to 1 meter (3 feet) in length.
They primarily live on a diet of sea sponges, many of which are toxic to other animals. In fact, there’s even evidence that the sea turtles’ flesh becomes toxic because they consume so many of these sponges. In 2010, 95 people fell seriously sick in the Federated States of Micronesia after eating a feast of hawksbill turtles. Four children and two adults died in the incident.
Hawksbill turtles are also biofluorescent, the first reptile to be recorded with this trait. It’s speculated that their fluorescent properties are gained through their diet, which includes fluorescent coral, although scientists aren’t actually too certain.