Silver Lining To Sicilian Heat: Baby Boom Of Endangered Sea Turtles
Italy has experienced a difficult summer of climate disasters, but the country is experiencing a boom in turtles' nests, with Sicily leading the way.
SAN VIOTO LO CAPO — In the summer of Italy's climate disasters, from floods in Milan to fires in the south, at least there is some good news: the boom of nests of the Caretta caretta turtle (or loggerhead sea turtle), one of Italy's emblematic endangered species.
Now, the turtle is experiencing a golden moment precisely because of the planet's warming, which has made Sicily a natural cradle for these baby reptiles. The animal had previously tested the Sicilian waters, but this year's temperatures have also allowed them to colonize previously challenging lands.
After Sicily's fires, it was a turtle nest on the beach of San Vito Lo Capo that became a symbol of rebirth for the northwestern Sicilian section of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).
"Our response, and that of all those who love life, to the criminals who indiscriminately start fires, burning nature, causing death and despair, is to protect life, nature, and all living beings, both plants and animals," said the volunteers as they safeguarded the turtle nest, watched over by the local lifeguard, beachgoers, and young people who will take turns until the hatching, expected at the end of August.
A boom in numbers
But the sightings continue, from one end to the other of Sicily, the region that holds the top spot for the number of nests recorded this summer. In Italy, this season has marked an absolute record of 293 nests, according to the data from the Life Turtlenest project by Legambiente, and this number is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Sicily alone has 105 nests, appearing all over the island.
"This summer has seen a decisive resurgence in the marine turtles' journey towards more northern latitudes, driven by climate change that has caused a significant increase in temperature, making environments suitable for nesting that were too cold for these magnificent reptiles just a few years ago," says Sandra Hochschied, a researcher at the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station in Naples and scientific coordinator of the Life Turtlenest project.
Indeed, from one end to the other of Italy, there is a constant stream of reports about mother turtles laying their eggs, a celebration of upcoming metaphorical blue and pink bundles. Newly hatched turtles are almost indistinguishable in terms of gender: males only differentiate themselves with a long tail, which develops only when they reach sexual maturity, typically between 15 and 25 years of age.
France and Spain are also preparing to celebrate the births: along the French Riviera, Provence, and Occitania, seven nests have been reported, while on the Spanish coastline – particularly in the areas of Valencia, Mallorca, and Ibiza – numbers have increased.
The turtles' changing fortunes
The rise in temperatures has had a significant positive impact on turtles, surpassing other risks such as accidental capture, habitat degradation, and human disturbance. However, conservation programs (like Life Turtlenest, which is co-funded by the European Union) and grassroots mobilization have also played a crucial role in safeguarding this ancient animal that has become a symbol of nature under threat.
According to recent reports, the Mediterranean is one of the basins warming most rapidly on the planet, at a rate of 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade. Projections for the year 2100 range between 1.8 and 3.5 degrees Celsius higher than the period between 1961 and 1990.
While humans struggle and the world is on alert, the turtles — at least for now — are celebrating their fortune in the face of these changing conditions.
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