More than 700 baby green sea turtles have hatched on Fitzroy Island off Cairns and wriggled their way into the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
The hatchlings are the first turtles to be born on the island in seven years. Their mother, Yasi the green sea turtle, last visited the island in 2011, just before a cyclone destroyed all but two of her nine nests. Marine biologists on Fitzroy Island have been expecting Yasi’s return ever since, and she finally arrived in November last year, laying seven nests over a three-month period. “Because it’s been a while since the last time she came, there were no predators, there were no birds, the goannas didn’t even find the nests,” Jen Moloney, a Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre marine biologist, told ABC News.
Turtle egg incubation takes around six to eight weeks, and Moloney says that the conditions were perfect for the hatchlings’ arrival. “We had the tree frogs chirping in the background, we had fireflies dancing around us, some of the nights the sky was just amazing,” she says. “It was just lit up with stars as far as you could see, and then to top it all off, just hatchlings racing down the beach around us.”
After emerging from their sandy nests, baby turtles instinctively make a dash for the ocean, but only one in 1000 hatchlings will reach the age of 30, which is when they start to reproduce. Yasi is thought to be between 60 and 80 years old, and was almost certainly born on Fitzroy Island as turtles’ ‘inner GPS’ guides them back to the place they were hatched to make their own nests.
According to recent data, sea turtle numbers have increased globally, but rising temperatures, plastic pollution and boat injuries are still major threats to their long-term survival.
Words: Penny Carroll