Endangered Sea Turtles Have Space to 'Thrive' on Nesting Beaches Temporarily Closed to Humans

Animal experts said it is "reassuring" to see the positive impact on wildlife amid the pandemic

Sea Turtle
Photo: Mark Conlin/VW PICS/UIG via Getty

Fewer beachgoers mean more stability for endangered sea turtles, experts say.

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, has noticed an upside amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at least for the marine animals that nest on the local beaches. Since the sandy spaces are closed to humans to help reduce the spread of the virus, the sea turtles’ eggs are largely undisturbed.

Leatherback sea turtles, in particular, are “coming in strong this year,” Sarah Hirsch, senior manager of research and data at the center, told WPEC.

“We’re excited to see our turtles thrive in this environment,” Hirsch said. “Our world has changed but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years, and it’s just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on.”

Nearly all seven species of sea turtles are endangered, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, which attributes the animals’ decline to “human activities.”

Another negative factor removed from the equation for wildlife in the absence of humans is a reduction in litter, David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, told CBS News.

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“All of the reduced human presence on the beach also means that there will be less garbage and other plastics entering the marine environment,” said Godfrey. “Ingestion and entanglement in plastic and marine debris also are leading causes of injury to sea turtles.”

The season for sea turtle nesting and hatching is from March 1 to Oct. 31, CBS News reported, and since many beaches are darker due to closures, the hatching process will likely be more opportune.

“We expect that thousands of hatchlings that ordinarily would be disoriented by lights this nesting season will not be and are more likely to survive to reach the sea,” said Godfrey.

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While animals have had free rein on certain outdoor areas during pandemic closures, some states are nearing steps to reopen the spaces while maintaining social distance measures. Florida beaches began to reopen on Friday, with crowds of people heading to the shores minutes after the beaches reopened.

Other nature spaces have seen thriving outcomes for animals since they’ve closed to humans, including an increase in bear sightings in Yosemite National Park, where tourists are temporarily barred, and lions “enjoying the freedom” to roam at a park in South Africa.

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