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  Ansa 28 Aug 06
Record summer for marine turtles
Loggerheads return to nest on southern shores

(ANSA) - Rome, An endangered species of marine turtle has been turning up along Italy's southern shores in increasing numbers this summer and using its sandy beaches as nesting grounds.

Turtle experts said record numbers of loggerhead turtles had been spotted in waters off Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and even Sardinia. They also said more than 15 nesting sites had been discovered, including nine on the southern Sicilian islands of Linosa and Lampedusa.

In one particularly rare case, a turtle clambered up onto a beach near Cagliari in Sardinia at the start of August and proceeded to deposit its eggs, to the startled delight of sunbathing tourists.

"This was a totally exceptional event which hasn't happened in Sardinia for years. It leads us to hope that these creatures are returning to nest in places where they haven't been seen for years," said marine biologist Simona Clo', who is also a member of an Italian network for turtle conservation called TartaNet.

Stefano Di Marco, who helps run TartaNet, said: "The increase in nests along our coasts shows that recent efforts to protect and conserve turtle nesting sites is beginning to pay off".

TartaNet has set up a 24-hour helpline which people can phone if they come across nesting sites or turtles in difficulty.

The most important nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean are along the coasts of Turkey, Libya and Cyprus. But the turtle's survival is increasingly under threat from aggressive fishing practices, pollution, shipping traffic and habitat degradation, particularly due to rising tourism.

Loggerheads, also known as Caretta Caretta, are among the biggest marine turtles, sometimes measuring more than four feet in shell length and weighing up to 400 pounds. They have large heads, hence their name, and strong jaws. Their mating occurs in open water and, unlike with other turtle species, it often takes place some distance from the shore. Females lay between 40 and 190 eggs per clutch.

Their major nesting grounds apart from the Mediterranean are in the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, particularly off the coast of Florida and South Carolina.

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