Nearly 100 critically endangered sea turtles have hatched on a deserted beach in Brazil, their first steps going almost unnoticed because of coronavirus restrictions that prohibit people from gathering on the region’s sands.
The 97 hawksbill sea turtles, or tartarugas-de-pente as they are known in Brazil, were born last Sunday in Paulista, a town in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco.
Photographs taken by government workers, the only people to witness the event, showed the tiny creatures making their way down the beach and into the Atlantic waves.
Locals have been forbidden from gathering on Pernambuco’s spectacular shoreline since last weekend, when the state governor, Paulo Camara, ordered a partial shutdown and urged residents to stay indoors to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking to the Guardian last week, Camara said such measures – which the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has actively undermined – were vital if Brazil were to avoid a crisis similar to the one that has taken hold in Europe. “Only isolation will stop the curve growing at the speed it is growing in other places,” he said.
Camara said the government of Pernambuco, which has so far confirmed 68 Covid-19 cases and five deaths, was racing against time to make hospital beds available for patients.
“All of our efforts are now geared towards delaying its profileration … [so that] when this curve grows, and it will grow, we are as ready as we possibly can be to care for people,” he said.
According to Brazil’s Tamar conservation project, which protects sea turtles, hawksbills lay their eggs along the country’s north-eastern coast and are considered a critically endangered species.
They can grow up to 110cm in length, weigh 85kg and owe their Portuguese name, which translates as “comb turtles”, to the fact that their shells were once widely used to make combs and frames for glasses.
The turtle’s English name comes from its narrow, pointed beak, according to the WWF.
Paulista’s environmental secretary, Roberto Couto, said the town was home to four of the five types of turtle found along Brazil’s coastline: the hawksbill, the green sea turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the loggerhead turtle. More than 300 turtles have hatched there this year.
Couto said the animals normally lay their eggs from January each year and that the hatchlings emerge in April or May. “It’s really beautiful because you can see the exact instant they come out of the eggs and … watch their little march across the beach,” Couto said. “It’s marvellous. It’s a wonderful, extraordinary feeling.
“This time, because of coronavirus, we couldn’t even tell people it was happening.”
Camara said he hoped the coronavirus restrictions could eventually be relaxed in his state, which is home to about nine million of Brazil’s 209 million citizens. But for now, they are essential. “Brazil isn’t ready for an exponential growth [in cases], so we need to buy time … so we can put together the infrastructure to treat as many infected people as possible,” he said.