The nesting area on Can Pere Antoni beach in Palma has been fenced off to prevent any interference. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter

Last month something astonishing occurred in Mallorca. Can Pere Antoni beach in Palma was the scene of the first recorded laying of sea turtle (Caretta caretta) eggs in Mallorca.

Since then, two more turtles have come ashore on the island to nest on the beach in Cala Millor and this week in Cala Tuent in Escorca, and according to Debora Morrison, who is Director of Conservation at Palma Aquarium and Director of the Palma Aquarium Foundation, this is a result of climate change.

Debora, who is originally from Melton Mowbray, is a qualified conservationist and has worked for many years in the area of recovery of marine fauna, especially cetaceans, sharks and sea turtles.
She arrived at Palma Aquarium just before it opened to the public to manage their environmental education and conservation department and is continuing the campaign for a healthy sea and land in order to “prevent ourselves being condemned to extinction”.

And the biggest threats are climate change, global warming and human impact. But the first ever recorded sea turtle nesting in Mallorca - there have been previous isolated cases in Ibiza and Minorca - show that marine species and other animals are adapting to climate change and global warming faster and better than humans, according to Debora.

The team at the Aquarium was key in assisting the government, which is responsible for caring for the turtle eggs and protecting the nesting grounds. Debora explained that the sea turtles have either come across the Atlantic and through the Straits of Gibraltar from Mexico, the Caribbean or the east coast of the United States or from Turkey, Greece and Libya in the eastern Mediterranean which are their usual nesting areas.

Evolution shift

“It may seem a long way to come but sea turtles, which are prehistoric and have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, can travel some 8,000 kilometres in just a few weeks. What they are looking for, ironically, are cooler sand environments to nest. Yes, land and sea temperatures have risen in the Mediterranean, which is one of the most polluted marine environments in the world, but clearly not as much as elsewhere, hence why sea turtles are nesting in Mallorca and quite probably we may see more over the coming weeks.

“That said, they are biannual nesters, so we will not see them next year, but they will return.

“But it is amazing to see how quickly they have adapted to climate change and global warming, there’s been an evolution shift in a very short period of time.

“In the meantime it is vital that the nesting areas are protected and that the eggs are looked after because only the females come ashore to nest, the males stay in the sea and there is no parental care.

“So, we have helped the government in taking some of the eggs away to be incubated in a controlled environment while the rest have been left in the nesting area. However once they have hatched, the baby turtles will be taken into care for the best part of a year until they are the correct weight and are healthy and strong enough to be released into the sea.

“The sad reality is that if they were left to their own devices, the vast majority would head straight into the sea and probably not survive. And this will also enable us to study the turtles, tag some and eventually investigate their DNA and genetics to discover exactly where they have come from.
“And this is further evidence that animals have a much stronger and efficient survival instinct than humans.

“Our programme at the foundation is a long-term one. We are tackling marine pollution, in particular plastics, and the human impact on the sea, land and air, all three of which need to be looked after in a much more sustainable way. We are dealing with our future, the future of humanity and while animals appear to be able to react quicker and with a more long-term solution, humans don’t.

“We tend to be more concerned about making the most of today and tomorrow while realistically not caring or thinking about the future, and unless we change the mindset, we’re condemning ourselves to extinction.

Can’t continue

“We can’t continue extracting natural and human resources at the current rate, we’re already running out of fresh water, for example, and unless we slow down and take effective action, within in three decades we’ll have passed the point of no return.

“In all honesty, we’re pretty close now and many of us are trying to work on ways of managing the damage which has been already been done while slowing down the damage we are continuing to inflict on the planet.

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“I know for many that climate change may be a concept they find hard to grasp, but just look at the past few summers in the Balearics and the heat waves gripping southern Europe this week.

The weather is only going to get harsher and more dramatic and unless politicians really take the problem seriously and implement laws, it’s going to be a very hard battle to fight.

“There is a lot of work which needs to be done and unless some of it is enforced, it will never happen.

“For example, the vast majority of drivers stay within the speed limit, not particularly because they are worried about having an accident, they are more concerned about getting fined. I believe governments should be taking a similar approach to climate change and making people comply with rules and regulations to manage and ease the effects of global warming - sadly it’s the only thing humans appear to respond to.

“But some entities would rather pay the fine than stop fishing with destructive methods, for example.
“The sea has no borders, and we must make a huge effort to conserve marine species and the health of the sea.

“Conservation of the Balearic Sea is in decline, but it is also true that in recent years there has been a social movement towards environmental conservation.

“It has been so abused, it is very wounded. There’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of awareness to be raised.

“I feel young people between the ages of 25 and 35 years old need to be educated in this area: it’s as if this generation has been left in limbo. Young people between the ages of 16 and 20 are very ecologically aware, but there is this whole other age group that seems to have been left behind.

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Future generations

“We’re so busy wanting a good time tomorrow but we’re not thinking about what kind of world we’re leaving for our children and future generations to enjoy.

“During Covid, the natural world did enjoy a respite and a number of species were able to recover and flourish again but I think we’ve come out of Covid with a worse attitude than when we went into it. We certainly have not emerged from it any better and we’ve learnt very little.

“That time could have been used to analyse what we’re doing to the planet and how we could make a difference. There is plenty of talk but there is no follow-up.

“The level of pollution in the Mediterranean, for example, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We’re having to confront and deal with a highly complex problem. Just take electric cars. To start with they are very expensive and secondly the infrastructure, charging points etc. is not there.

“Plus, transition to electric vehicles could require three times as much lithium as is currently produced for the entire global market, causing needless water shortages, indigenous land grabs, and ecosystem destruction in numerous developing countries.

“Then there is the matter of what do we do with all the batteries. We’re creating a toxic residual for the next generation and that is what really concerns me and all of the people I work with.

“It’s not a sustainable source of energy in the long term and that is what we have to start seriously thinking about and acting on,” Debora said.