HONOLULU — Hawaiian green sea turtle hatchlings appeared for the first time on an Oahu beach owned by the U.S. military, which wildlife experts believe may be partly a result of the coronavirus.
Experts said there have never before been hatched eggs from the threatened turtle species on U.S. Marine Corps Base Hawaii Training Area Bellows Beach, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
The 3-inch (7.62 centimeters) hatchlings emerged from the white sand and headed toward the sea beginning about a month ago and continuing through last week.
Several of the sea turtles hauled themselves onto the beach to nest in April, the first time the behavior was documented there.
Experts could not conclusively say why the mother turtles used the mile-long (1.6-kilometer) expanse for the first time, but suspect the nesting occurred because the beach was empty due to state health restrictions.
“Initial nesting seemed to occur before we had a lot of recreation (return to) the beach when the public came back in May,” said Lt. Col. Tim Pochop, director for environmental compliance and protection at Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay.
Conservationists identified 15 nests and placed ropes around them to prevent the eggs from being disturbed. They have monitored the nests in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Turtles often return to nest at the spots where they hatched. But many Hawaiian green sea turtles have no dry sands for their return because of climate change and devastating storms, said Lance Bookless, senior natural resources manager at the base.
“A lot of turtles have been displaced by the hurricane that destroyed their primary nesting grounds in the French Frigate Shoals two years ago, combined with sea level rise over little atolls (in the Northwestern Hawaii Islands),” Bookless said.
After nesting and hatching ends, scientists will excavate the area and take DNA samples from hatchlings that did not survive to determine the parents and their origins, Bookless said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.