Little did they know, when The Box Tops wrote the "The Letter" in 1967 that those iconic lyrics could apply to a Green Turtle some 52 years later. Nonetheless, truth became stranger than fiction when a Momma Turtle's internal GPS was working just fine when she landed on the newly-constructed Maafaru Airport in the Maldives. While she was an unexpected guest in April 2019, her touch-down included others missing airline tickets as well. This Green was accompanied by a trail of eggs on the tarmac.
Old Habitats Die Hard
Unbeknownst to the Momma and the Air Traffic Controller, neither had knowledge that the Airport's airstrip was built on what used to be an active nesting beach for these endangered sea turtles.
The Independent's Harry Cockburn, said: "In what appears to be a stark illustration of the immediate impacts of habitat loss on wildlife, the green sea turtle – a species listed as endangered by the IUCN – is seen in the middle of the 2,200m (7,200ft) Maafaru runway on the atoll of Noonu, laying her eggs on the tarmac."
Sea Turtles are guided by an internal GPS that is honed over the years to indicate geographical touchpoints. One significant signal is green turtles almost always return to the exact same beach where they were born to lay their own clutches of eggs. This sometimes takes multi-year journeys to reach this same small patch of sand their GPS signaled was the correct spot. Once there and dug into the beach, their clutches can average from 75 to 200 eggs.
Maafaru from Beach to Runway
Maafaru has a long history of being a popular nesting site for hundreds of sea turtles, according to the locals. They noted the number of turtles visiting the island had not fallen since the construction of the airstrip last in 2018.
“Despite the construction of the runway, the frequency with which turtles visit the island for nesting purposes has not decreased,” a source from Maafaru Island Council reportedly claimed. Presently, the airport accommodates a total of six jets and one resort.
Maldives' Green Turtles
Green sea turtles, also known as black (sea) turtles or Pacific green turtles, are one of the largest at sea.
These turtles can grow to lengths of up to 4 feet and weigh between 250 and 400 lbs, and like other species of sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches from where they hatched.
Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to 80 years in the wild.
While the Maldives has more than 2000 individually Hawksbill and Green turtles in their database, there are currently no other stats as to how many other Greens landed on the Maafaru Airport's airstrip in either 2019 or 2020 -- besides the one dedicated in today's blog. There's been talk that the airport officials are putting some thought as to how to solve the problem of accommodating these sea turtles [but as of this posting, there is no informative update].
Suffice to say -- Greens will be Greens, and their nesting grounds will be their nesting grounds. And just as those iconic lyrics lit up a generation of hippies in the 1960s, so might there be a generation of Green Turtles in the 2020s.
As the [paraphrased] song goes:
♬ Momma has no time to take a fast train.
Gotta get back to her babies - once again,
Lonely days are gone, She's a-goin' home.
Primary Source: The Independent