Hatchlings laid by endangered turtle at East Coast released

Audrey Tan Straits Times 12 Nov 17;

The clutch of eggs laid by a critically endangered hawksbill turtle at East Coast Park in August hatched last month, some 60 days after the pregnant turtle first made landfall.

The National Parks Board (NParks) had moved the eggs to a safer, unnamed location with less foot traffic and low light pollution. It was risky for the eggs to have remained at the original site, an urban beach.

Of the 141 eggs, 100 hatched on Oct 18. Some of the eggs were lost to predators such as monitor lizards, said NParks.

The baby turtles were released on a beach where they crawled towards the water themselves.

"This allows them to orientate themselves - a process called imprinting - so that they will be able to navigate back to the area when they have matured and are ready to lay their eggs," Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, told The Sunday Times.

Prior to the release, trained NParks officers recorded the vital statistics of the hatchlings, such as their weight and carapace (shell) length, for research and data collection purposes. Each hatchling was also inspected for any deformities.

The officers had received training earlier this year at Mon Repos Turtle Centre in Australia - an established institute on turtle ecology.

While sightings of turtle hatchlings have been regularly reported, the sight of a turtle laying eggs is a rare one. If one is sighted, members of the public should not touch it as doing so could scare or provoke the animal. People should instead keep their distance, speak softly, and contact NParks on 1800-471-7300.

"Similarly, one should not handle the eggs as that might damage them," said Dr Tun.

Ms Debby Ng, from marine conservation volunteer group Hantu Blog, said it was "outstanding" that Singapore's shores could still provide a safe nesting space for globally threatened species, such as the hawksbill turtle.

"It is evidence that urbanisation and wildlife existence need not be a zero-sum game. But... will there still be suitable shores for the surviving baby turtles to return and foster the next generation? With that in mind, we can guide practices today to ensure a future for these long-lived ocean ambassadors," she said.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore) and a member of the Marine Turtle Working Group, agreed.

He said: "We have collectively proven that when we protect our natural spaces, even amid urbanisation, biodiversity flourishes.

"So we must continue to do more for our returning sea turtles; to preserve our natural beaches as nesting sites, and to protect our coral reefs as healthy foraging grounds."