By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
Marine biologist in the Department of Conservation and Fisheries, Argel Horton is warning against touching hatchling turtles.
Horton gave the warning after two videos surfaced this week, showing footage of what appeared to be a number of just-hatched Dermochelys coriaceous – more commonly referred to as leatherback turtles – leaving their nest in Savannah Bay in Virgin Gorda.
The hatchlings were making their maiden journey to the ocean.
At the end of one of the amateur video footage, a male onlooker can be heard saying: “There is still more in the hole (nest), you know. I’m going to help them out.”
But, while describing that as a noble gesture, Horton said persons hurt more than they help when they attempt to assist hatchling turtles.
“Yes it is pretty to see but don’t touch them. Don’t pick them up out of their nest because … in actuality, it causes harm to the turtles,” she told BVI News on Thursday, June 28.
She further explained: “That is the way of their sensors. The beach will have a particular scent and they will need to recognize it so when it’s time to go back, they know the scent of where their home is and they would want to go back there because it is safer for them; if they are females.”
Only female turtles come back to their place of birth to lay. Males remain in the water throughout their lifetime.
Horton said another likely impact of holding hatchlings is causing physical harm to the animals.
“They are very fragile so you would think that you are touching them very softly, but you are probably causing more damage to them.”
“It’s a survival instinct journey so you are actually reducing their risks of them surviving on their own. They have to build up the strength on their own to get out of their nests,” an adamant Horton said.
Bright lights are also strongly discouraged as the hatchlings would naturally gravitate towards the light and abandon their journey to the water, the marine biologist said.
Savannah Bay may be a first
Meanwhile, according to Horton, the location at Savannah Bay may be a historic first for leatherbacks or turtles in general.
She said, over the years, there have been sightings of the sea creatures on Virgin Gorda. The marine biologist recalls one sighting at Fisher’s Cove a few years ago and another at Trunk Bay.
“This, I think, would be the third time we got a report of a leatherback being on Virgin Gorda. And to the best of my knowledge, there have not been any reports of leatherbacks nesting on Savannah Bay, so this is the first time for us.”
She said a leatherback may have nested there because of a ‘change in the coastlines’ which either confused this particular mother leatherback or the area of its birth was compromised and was no longer suitable for it to lay.
The marine biologist said there are many nesting areas in the territory but, for the safety of the animals, their locations are being withheld.
Sea nesting season in the Caribbean is usually in the summer and fall months.
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