CT BETA coordinates for the fourth year the management of sea turtle nesting on the beaches of Catalonia

The appearance of loggerhead turtle nests in places where this species has never been present before generates some very specific management needs

In recent years, in some areas of the Mediterranean region there has been an increase in sporadic nesting events of sea turtles outside their usual populations (located mainly in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus). This phenomenon is particularly noticeable on the Catalan coasts: in 2021, 5 nests were detected, but up to 8 more events were recorded that did not come to success. These figures set a record and highlight the constant growth of this phenomenon. In the case of Catalonia, the species that is the protagonist of all nesting events is the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Today, Thursday 16 June, is World Sea Turtle Day.

For the fourth year and by direct order of the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda (DACC) of the Government of Catalonia, the BETA Technology Centre of the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) is preparing to coordinate the response to this type of event in Catalonia. For each detected sign of nesting, a team from the BETA TC goes to the field to coordinate and carry out conservation work. This involves locating the nests; assessing whether a transfer is necessary to ensure their viability; monitoring incubation temperatures to predict the emergence of hatchlings; assisting in the emergence and release of hatchlings; taking biometric data from the turtles; and exhuming the nests after hatchling emergence.

The DACC is the administration responsible for the response, through the Rescue Network of the Fauna and Flora Service of Catalonia. The team of experts of the CT BETA works side by side, as well as with the managing bodies of the natural parks of Catalonia or the local administrations, providing advice whenever necessary. Likewise, the CT BETA team also provides technical advice and collaborates with organisations such as CRAM, CRARC and Barcelona Zoo for the artificial incubation of eggs, and with non-profit organisations for advice on the custody of nests by environmental volunteers.

Nesting outside the usual populations

Elena Abella, researcher at the UVic-UCC’s BETA Technology Centre, explains that “these nesting events outside the usual populations seem to be due to a change in the thermal conditions of our coasts, produced by the increase in temperature of climate change, and a dispersing behaviour of the animals; although it cannot be ruled out that factors such as chance or errors in the behaviour of the turtles may also be involved”.

The appearance of loggerhead turtle nests in places where this species has never been present before generates some very specific management needs. Mainly, there is the fact that so far there is little previous experience at the local level on the actions to be taken to ensure their preservation. However, a large part of the difficulty lies in the fact that they occur in areas that are generally over-frequented during the summer, such as beaches.

Coordination of the COMING project and collaboration in the NIDOS-Caretta project

During 2021, the BETA TC coordinated the COMING project (funded by the MAVA Foundation within the framework of the MedPAN Small Projects call). The project activities focused on three main axes: the development of a common strategy for the monitoring and management of nesting events in the western Mediterranean, the implementation of scientific studies on their origin and viability, and the implementation of outreach and awareness-raising activities on loggerhead turtle biology. This project has been carried out with the University of Barcelona and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Italy) as partners, and the collaboration of the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC).

On the other hand, the CT BETA has also collaborated in the NIDOS-Caretta project, which aimed to carry out a pilot test in Catalonia – potentially applicable in other Spanish regions – to maximise the success of nesting cases. This project was led by the University of Barcelona, with the collaboration of the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC) and is co-funded by the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.