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A time to lay: With turtle egg season underway, public asked to help

Upon encountering an animal or eggs, beachgoers are urged to call inspectors, keep others away until they arrive

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A female turtle fitted with a transmitter for research returns to the Mediterranean Sea. (Yaniv Levy, INPA)
A female turtle fitted with a transmitter for research returns to the Mediterranean Sea. (Yaniv Levy, INPA)

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority called on the public on Tuesday to look out for turtle nests on Israel’s Mediterranean beaches, now that egg-laying season has begun and rockets from Gaza appear to have stopped.

Since the ceasefire with Hamas took effect early Friday, seven turtle nests have been discovered on the southern coast. On Monday, one was found in the tracks of a tank on Zikim beach, south of Ashkelon and near Gaza.

Loggerhead and green turtles lay eggs along the coast from May to August. Last year, the INPA saw a record season, with 24,071 eggs laid in 371 nests.

Female turtles normally return to the beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. They drag themselves across the sand, dig burrows with their flippers, drop large numbers of eggs into the holes, cover them up, and then make their way back to the sea.

A turtle, whose winding tracks can be seen going to and from the sea, laid her eggs in the fresh tracks of tank at the Zikim beach, southern Israel. (Eli Horowitz, INPA).

During the season, INPA inspectors trained in Israel and overseas patrol the beaches every morning to look for nests. When they find one, they carefully remove the eggs and take them to specially built reserves to protect the eggs from humans and predators and give the hatchlings the best chance of getting to the sea.

Given the length of Israel’s 195-kilometer (121-mile) coastline, though, they are calling on the public to help.

Those spotting turtle tracks are asked to call *3639 and to provide photographs and an exact location. They should not  touch the tracks and, if possible, prevent other beachgoers from doing so and wait close by until an inspector arrives. Under no circumstances should a member of the public disturb a turtle nest or try to remove the eggs, the INPA says.

Turtle eggs in a nest. (Shlomit Shavit, INPA)

Seaside areas for laying eggs diminish every year as residential and tourist buildings, restaurants, roads, factories, marinas and ports are built and more and more people take to the beaches. The challenges are compounded by the presence of humans, noise and strong lights during the night when the laying takes place. Turtles use the light of the moon to navigate their way back to the sea.

The INPA asks that if a turtle is encountered on the beach, call *3639, stay at least 20 meters (65 feet) away, keep absolutely quiet and ask others on the beach to do so too. Do not use a torch or take a photo with a flash.

Female turtles are highly sensitive to disturbance, according to Dr. Yaniv Levy, director of the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center in central Israel.

If a female cannot lay her eggs in peace, or fails to find a suitable place, she will go back to the sea, Levy explained. If, on a second try, she still does not succeed, she may lay the eggs in the sea, in which case none will survive, or, worse, keep them in her body, where they will rot and eventually kill her.

Nests transferred from publicly accessible beaches to nature reserves for protection. (Noam Mitzri, INPA)

An estimated 8,000 loggerhead and 2,000 green turtle egg clutches are laid in the central and eastern Mediterranean each year.

Green sea turtles are endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while loggerheads in the Mediterranean are not considered to be a cause of concern.

Twenty-one sea turtles were brought to the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center following a major oil spill in February,  but most were already dead from tar.  A lucky six that survived underwent treatment.

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