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Sea turtles are finally thriving now that people are stuck indoors

Stay-at-home orders have forced millions of people to stay indoors to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Now, as summer approaches and beaches remain void of people and pollution, sea turtles are finally able to nest peacefully — and they're thriving. 

Sarah Hirsch, senior manager of research and data at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, told CBS News affiliate WPEC that "it's going to be a very good year for our leatherbacks." 

"We're excited to see our turtles thrive in this environment," Hirsch said. "Our world has changed, but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years and it's just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on."

David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, told CBS News in an email that thousands of turtles are currently migrating to nesting beaches in Florida and other areas in the Southeastern United States, and that "all of the potential positive impacts relate to changes in human behavior."

All seven species of sea turtles are endangered. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the largest threats sea turtles face in the U.S. are damages to nesting habitats, accidentally getting captured by fishermen, debris entanglement and getting hit by marine vessels. 

Godfrey explained that since there are far fewer people boating and operating cruise and container ships now, "the chances that turtles are going to be inadvertently struck and killed will be lower."

Ben Hicks

"All of the reduced human presence on the beach also means that there will be less garbage and other plastics entering the marine environment," Godfrey added. "Ingestion and entanglement in plastic and marine debris also are leading causes of injury to sea turtles."

A study conducted at the University of Florida in 2016 found that removing debris from the beach can increase the number of nests by as much as 200%. 

In Juno Beach, Florida, researchers from the Loggerhead Marinelife Center have found at least 69 nests, which is "significantly more than normal" for the 9.5 miles of beach they include in their research, according to CBS Miami. According to the center, only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings live to be adults, and all of the hatchlings the center takes in have ingested microplastics. 

Florida reported more than 395,700 sea turtle nests in the 2019 nesting and hatching season, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Many nesting sites are along the beaches that double as popular tourist destinations, including in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Florida Keys. But now that the beaches are seeing fewer tourists, closed businesses, and many are still closed to the public, Godfrey said the beaches are darker. 

"We expect that thousands of hatchlings that ordinarily would be disoriented by lights this nesting season will not be – and are more likely to survive to reach the sea," he said. 

Nesting and hatching season lasts from March 1 to October 31. 

In Tortuguero, Costa Rica, the Sea Turtle Conservancy announced Friday that they counted 45 leatherback turtle nests, three green turtle nests, and one hawksbill nest. 

Nesting update from Sea Turtle Conservancy Tortuguero! Our team reports 45 leatherback nests and we just got our first...

Posted by Sea Turtle Conservancy on Friday, April 17, 2020

The first Kemp's ridley sea turtle nest was discovered in Texas on April 11, which the Padre Island Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery says is about 10 days earlier than last year. They wrote on Facebook that they hope it's a sign of a "busy nesting year." 

FIRST KEMP’S RIDLEY NEST FOUND TODAY IN TEXAS! Someone was out “hiding” her eggs today… and it wasn’t the Easter Bunny....

Posted by Padre Island NS Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery on Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center and other sea turtle researchers have said they are optimistic about how coronavirus will impact the rest of the nesting season. 

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