Environmentalists have yet to come across a single turtle nest this summer, a stark contrast from last year’s record-breaking season, as fears over the impact of climate change mount.

A total of 320 loggerhead turtles hatched in Malta and Gozo over summer in 2020, making it the most successful turtle nesting season in local recorded history.

This year, however, environmentalists are yet to find one nest. With just a few weeks of summer left this season, there is little hope of having last season’s numbers.

The main reason believed to be behind the dramatic shift is one that is increasingly troubling environmentalists – climate change.

According to Nature Trust Malta head Vince Attard, the fact turtles have stayed away is a direct result of the shift in the world’s climate.

Higher sea temperatures mean fish and turtles are likely to move to cooler waters closer to countries north of Malta, he said. While loggerhead turtles had repeatedly laid eggs on the island in 2020, this summer they moved elsewhere.

“For instance, Sicily and Italy witnessed an increase in turtle nests this year,” Attard said.

“Unfortunately, climate change will bring many such changes,” he warned.

Like the rest of the southern Mediterranean, Malta has been experiencing unbearable temperatures since June, when the first heatwave sizzled the island. There have been two other heatwaves since, with above average temperatures forecast for the rest of August.

Fish and turtles are likely to move to cooler waters closer to countries north of Malta

On Monday, the United Nations published a new climate crisis report that warned of a humanity-threatening rise in temperatures following “unequivocal” evidence human activity is warming the planet.

But climate change was not the only hurdle the loggerhead turtles faced this year.

According to Attard, closures and measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic could also have played a part in preventing the turtles from laying their eggs on Malta’s beaches.

“This year, beaches were more crowded than usual and were full of noise and light pollution. The fact that bars were closed because of COVID-19 meant more people sought out the beaches to enjoy their time,” Attard said.

What is a loggerhead?

The loggerhead turtle, known in Maltese as the fekruna l-komuni  and scientifically as Caretta caretta, is a long-living, slowly maturing marine species that inhabits tropical to warm temperate areas.

The species is classified as globally endangered and is also protected by national and international legislation.

Capturing, killing, taking and trading these turtles is subject to legal action, as is disturbing them deliberately, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing and migration. 

Even the destruction of eggs or taking of eggs from the wild is strictly prohibited and constitutes a criminal offence. 

The area where the loggerhead turtles have laid eggs is also a protected site under the Environment Protection Act, as well as  being a Natura 2000 site through the EU Habitats Directive.

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