2020 is set to be ‘really good year’ for leatherbacks, conservationists say
With beaches across the world cleared of people and their waste, one vulnerable sea creature - here for millions of years before humans - appears to be making a comeback.
In recent weeks, rare leatherback turtles have been found nesting in numbers not seen for decades on beaches in Florida and Thailand.
And experts say the resurgence of the vulnerable leatherback is likely closely linked to the desertion of beaches across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Juno beach, Florida, staff from the Loggerhead Marinelife Centre have discovered 76 nests over an almost 10-mile stretch of sand in the first two weeks of the season, a "significant" increase on last year.
In Thailand, the largest number of leatherback nests in two decades has been found on beaches bereft of tourists, according to environmentalists.
“This is a very good sign for us because many areas for spawning have been destroyed by humans,” Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said of the 11 nests they found.
No such nests had been seen for the previous five years.
“If we compare to the year before, we didn't have this many spawn, because turtles have a high risk of getting killed by fishing gear and humans disturbing the beach," Mr Kittiwatanawong added.
Staff at the Loggerhead centre in Juno Beach said leatherback numbers would be "coming in strong this year".
"It's going to be a really good year for our leatherbacks," the centre's research manager, Sarah Hirsch, told West Palm Beach News.
From wild boars patrolling the Israeli city of Haifa to deer venturing into London suburbs, virus closures are drawing wildlife into the abandoned streets of many cities.
In Thailand, with 2,765 infections and 47 deaths, travel curbs ranging from a ban on international flights to an appeal to citizens to stay home have brought a collapse in tourist numbers but freed up the beaches for wildlife.
Leatherbacks are the world's largest sea turtles. They are considered endangered in Thailand and listed as a vulnerable species globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
They lay their eggs in dark and quiet areas, scarce when tourists thronged the beaches. People have also been known to dig into their nests and steal eggs.
Late in March, the staff at a national park in the southern province of Phanga Nga bordering the Andaman Sea found 84 hatchlings after monitoring eggs for two months.