Critically endangered turtle spotted laying eggs at East Coast beach

NParks scientists measuring the carapace of the hawksbill turtle. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
NParks scientists measuring the carapace of the hawksbill turtle. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
NParks scientists measuring the carapace of the hawksbill turtle. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
NParks scientists measuring the carapace of the hawksbill turtle. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

SINGAPORE - A critically endangered hawksbill turtle was spotted laying eggs on a beach at East Coast Park on Wednesday evening (Aug 23).

While sightings of freshly-hatched turtle hatchlings have been regularly reported, the sight of a turtle laying eggs is a rare one.

Last week on Aug 16, 32 hawksbill turtle hatchlings were guided back to sea by the National Parks Board (NParks) after they were spotted scampering about by members of the public.

On Wednesday, the pregnant turtle made landfall at around dusk, and NParks said it was alerted to the sighting by a member of the public at about 7.30pm.

NParks officers, who were in Australia to learn more about turtle management earlier this year at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre - an established institute on turtle ecology, were on the scene within half an hour.

Their observations showed that the reptile started laying eggs at about 8.40pm.

When The Straits Times arrived at the scene at about 9pm, the turtle was lying motionless on the beach as it laid its eggs. Its shell was also covered with sand, making it less conspicuous.

The turtle started covering the eggs with sand at 9.18pm and moved off at 9.52pm.

It was back in the water at 10.06pm.

The trained NParks officers also took photographs and a number of other measurements, such as the width of the turtle's trail and the length of its shell. They also made observations about its entry and exit points.

They learnt that the turtle followed a similar route when coming onto land and making its way back to the sea - an important find, as the team now knows what to look out for when combing the beach for turtles.

This latest sighting comes after a Marine Turtle Working Group - comprising staff from NParks, academics from institutions such as the National University of Singapore, and interest groups and individuals - was re-established last year.

Such collaborative work has been ongoing since 2006, but the re-establishment of the working group helped with the enhancement of a standard operating procedure (SOP) when turtle sightings are reported.

This includes installing more signages on the beach, getting members of the public to contact NParks when turtles are spotted, and advisories on what to do when these reptiles are encountered.

There are two species of turtles native to Singapore - the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle.

Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine branch at NParks National Biodiversity Centre, said the incident was an exciting one, as it provided researchers the opportunity to learn more about these rarely encountered animals.

"The discovery shows that turtles are still coming in and that our environment is still favourable for them to come in and lay eggs," said Dr Tun.

Members of the public are reminded to contact the NParks helpline (1800-471-7300), and to keep their distance and speak softly when a turtle is sighted.

Touching the turtle may scare or provoke it. People should also not handle the eggs as this might damage them.