World turtle day. "This is how we save them from the waste that has invaded the sea"
They have been his daily mission for twenty-three years. Protect them, study them, cure them. AND rtell the world why the Caretta caretta are an icon of the biodiversity of our seas. More: a litmus paper. "They swallow our waste, mistaking the plastic for jellyfish, and are injured by the impact with boats, sometimes irreversibly", she explains. Sandra Hochscheid she is the woman of sea turtles: German origins (she was born in Mühlheim an der Ruhr, near Düsseldorf), Neapolitan by adoption, works at the Turtle Point of the Anton Dohrn Zoological Stationin Portici.
Here, in the 600 square meters of an unusual hospital for reptiles born in 2017 - ironically - in place of the old municipal slaughterhouse and now equipped with surgical and radiological clinics, arrive Caretta caretta from all over the Tyrrhenian Sea. "Often - says the biologist, scientific manager of the project on the conservation and research of sea turtles in Campania - they are battered, in some cases we are forced to amputate a limb, as happened in Bagigi, a three-year-old specimen that had remained entangled in ropes and floating waste, which we released into the sea of Ischia last June.But the glass is half full, because the environmental sensitivity of the general public is growing and because, waiting for a census of scientific valuewe have perceptions of a numerical increase in sea turtle populations in our seas".
Celebrating World Turtle Day today, born in 1990 to raise awareness of the respect and protection of reptiles strongly threatened by human activities, Sandra Hochscheid smiles confidently as she observes the eighteen turtles now hospitalized in the Turtle Point tanks , which - with his team - he will try to give a second chance. And in the meantime she is rekindling the thread of memories, thinking of when it all began, a Teutonic woman catapulted into the Mediterranean, under the sign of turtles: "I studied in Marburg, near Frankfurt, and took advantage of an exchange to move to Kiel, on the Baltic Sea.
Two years of oceanographic campaigns and, in 1999, the doctorate in Scotland, in Aberdeen. Thesis on sea turtles, with a small detail: in Scotland there are none. So I contacted various European structures and found a positive response from Naples. Getting used to it was not easy, I didn't know a single word of Italian. I didn't think I'd put down roots, but I'm still here. Thanks to the turtles". And thanks, too, to a love that blossomed by studying them: the one with Fulvio Maffucci, also a researcher at Dohrn, also at the forefront of rescuing the Caretta caretta. Today they live in Monte di Procida, on the Phlegrean coast: view of the Gulf of Naples, the city a few kilometers away.
"Increasing nests, climate change has something to do with it"
From Caserta to Cilento, turtles will return to nest here in a few weeks. In these days, further south, the spawning season has begun: the coasts, even the most man-made ones, will turn into real nurseries. "The number of nests is increasing and this, in hindsight, is the most extraordinary part of my story. - explains the biologist - In Campania turtles only started nesting in 2002, in Baia Domitia: I saw it as a sign of destiny, as if they had followed me. They had always come to our shores to eat, now they stay here to mate and lay their eggs. In recent years, something has changed. It has to do with it climate change, which has made the temperatures of the beaches more suitable for embryonic developmentbringing the distribution area of the nests much further north Caretta caretta. But I think it is also the effect of the conservation projects developed in Greece and Turkey in the previous years: those turtles, protected at birth, have become adults in a significant percentage. The cons, of course, are not lacking: global warming favors the feminization of baby girls. And so - he underlines - in the long run we risk having fewer males, the survival of the species could be in the balance".
Eight out of 10 turtles ate plastic
Not only. The western Mediterranean is still, in some ways, an obstacle course between wild yachting and pollution, hence projects such as the Life TURTLENEST, created with the contribution of the European Commission's LIFE program and promoted along the coasts of Italy, France and of Spain. "Eight turtles out of ten, among those we shelter in Portici, have ingested plastic or waste, ropes or fishing gear", Sandra underlines. "We intervene surgically - he adds - and we follow them during their convalescence, before releasing them into the sea, often in front of the students. We bet a lot on them, on their enthusiasm: children, today, reflect on the effects of their actions on the environment, much more than the generation that preceded them". After all, she too was small, when she had - in the earthly heart of her Germany - the illumination: "I loved documentaries on animals. I followed the interventions of Greenpeace, wondering how it was possible for man to commit atrocious crimes against seals and whales. And I said to myself: I will do something for the environment, I will dedicate my life to endangered animals". She did it, she is doing it.
And to the new generations Sandra and her team will appeal - from 5 to 8 August - to recruit volunteers: "We are looking for young enthusiasts and nature lovers to patrol the coasts of Campania in the morning at dawn in search of sea turtle traces. We will have five base camps, where the volunteers will be housed in tents or lodgings: Capaccio, Ascea, Palinuro, Marina di Camerota and Castelvolturno. The 24-hour hatching assistance services will start in August. Here, every time a little turtle emerges from under the sand, in the dark, after a vertical path of thirty centimeters, orienting itself with the light of the moon, I have the exact perception of the meaning of mine, of our work. And that's all I need."