* This is a guest post by Gareth Phillips
The Maltese Islands are famous for their crystal waters, warm temperatures and their enchanting wrecks but optimism has reached its highest level in years, thanks to one unfamiliar happening this week.
With all the doom and gloom surrounding marine conservation these days, it has been a fantastic sight to witness a lone female sea turtle come ashore and lay her eggs on a previously popular nesting beach. Gnejna bay, situated on Malta's north-west was always a popular nesting site for sea turtles during the warm summer months but due to man's interference there has not been a recording of such an event in Malta since 1960. Even then, it was not an altogether celebrated event as the poor mother was killed and her eggs stolen.
Fortunately, conservation efforts have managed to change attitudes here and her arrival was treated with great excitement. Experts from MEPA (Malta Environment and Planning Authority) as well as the local police were instantly notified of the event and were promptly on scene to ensure that everything went smoothly. She was observed quietly digging her nest and was left to lay her eggs, undisturbed. There was, of course, some fanfare as this particular beach has not seen a nesting turtle for more than 100 years but the odd photograph can surely be forgiven. After an hour or so and 79 eggs later, she returned to the water for a well-deserved rest. It is a mystery as to where she will be heading next but her job on Gnejna beach is done.
In a statement, MEPA said this case was the first confirmed sea turtle nesting event in Malta for a century, although other unconfirmed records of such events have been reported from other beaches in the last 50 years.
"Marine turtles are endangered species and are strictly protected by a number of national and international legislation. In fact, Article 12 of the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, together with the Regulation 25 of the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitat Protection Regulations (L.N. 311 of 2006, as amended) state that the deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration, is prohibited."
MEPA said it is taking the necessary action to assess the situation and evaluate the best approach to be taken in response to this event. Furthermore MEPA is coordinating with the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment, the Maltese Police Force, and officials within the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs on the best course of action.
"The public is reminded that because of the importance of the eggs in question, taking of pets and music should be avoided at all times, until further notice. Deliberate disturbance to the eggs in question is also strictly prohibited," it warned.
Such fantastic news and congratulations to all those who were involved. See you in about 11 weeks when we hope to see a miniature mad dash for the warm, shimmering water.