In the Hérault, the birth under close surveillance of loggerhead turtles

September 12, 2022 at 3:05 p.m.,
Updated on September 12, 2022 at 3:42 p.m.

Reading time: 4 minutes

Animals Seas and oceans

Valras-Plage (Hérault), report

Discreetly, the twists came out of the sand. At the end of the day on September 7, the gray sky and the sea still swollen from the storms of the previous day did not, however, invite you to swim. A magical moment for Jean-Michel from the Center for the Study and Protection of Mediterranean Marine Turtles (CESTMed), the first to have seen around forty baby turtles come out of their nest and reach the sea, in single file and in great shape », determined to live. Immediately, there was a commotion among the volunteers present on the site. As for the newborns, they threw their 25 grams in the water and took off, without worrying about the commotion they caused around them.

The miracle began on July 17 last night. A loggerhead turtle — caretta caretta for friends — chose Valras-Plage to lay her eggs there. It was Alain who noticed the intrepid turtle climbing on the beach from the boulevard. She went straight for a few meters and then turned to her right. There she landed and she began to dig a real tube ! 45 minutes later, she was laying eggs. With my children, we lived an extraordinary thing ! » Neither the lights of the casino nor the riprap put in place against erosion dissuaded her from choosing this location. It is accepted that adult females come to lay their eggs on the beach where they themselves were born, or on a nearby shore. So why here ? It is possible that the overheating of the waters of the Mediterranean this summer has disturbed the turtle in its choice of place to lay eggs. But it’s only an hypothesis »says Théo, from CESTMed.

Protections have been installed on the beach, around the place of laying. © Franck Soler / Reporterre

Throughout the incubation period, the site was monitored day and night by volunteers from three associations, Sea Shepherd France, CESTMed and Orpellières. There are more than a hundred volunteers mobilized. Two to eight people take turns on the site at all times. It’s a big effort for us, but it’s worth it. The presence of this nest reminds us that the Mediterranean is very much alive », explains Kevin, of Sea Shepherd. The municipality of Valras has also invested in the security and monitoring system put in place around the site. Admittedly, we were surprised but then there was no reluctance to intervene and in particular to close part of the beach when we are in the middle of summer. », says the mayor, Daniel Ballester. Among the volunteers, an elected representative from Valras confesses with emotion: It’s a real gift that she gave us, this turtle, to come here to lay eggs. »

Only three nesting loggerhead turtles have been observed on the French Mediterranean coasts, in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone (Hérault), Fréjus and Saint-Aygulf (Var). For Theo, in recent years, the phenomenon is not so rare: What is exceptional, on a very busy beach like here, is to have been able to spot the turtle when laying eggs and to have been able to quickly protect its nest. » caretta caretta is still very present in the Mediterranean but the species is today very threatened, both by industrial fishing, poaching and plastic pollution. 90 % of adult turtles that we collect from the care center have plastic in them and this can represent up to 14 grams per individual. »

Volunteers from three associations took turns protecting the site and watching over the turtles. © Franck Soler / Reporterre

Saturday, September 10, the excavation of the nest allowed scientists to count the number of births: ninety-five tortillons came out of their shells and two were stillborn. In addition, sixteen eggs were not fertilized. Everything has been done to ensure that the emergence of tortillons takes place as quickly as possible. naturally » possible.

It’s hard to believe when, in this upset nature, survival is a miracle. Only one tortillon out of a thousand reaches adulthood. But this cruel reality does not prevent wonder or mobilization. Also Kevin wants to be positive: This event awakens our consciences and reminds us of our responsibilities vis-à-vis the Mediterranean and the marine world in general. »

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