IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. — Experts are looking into a mystery found in Imperial Beach. A man walking on the beach this morning says he had to scare away sea gulls from peaking at mystery eggs. He called lifeguards and they took the eggs away in buckets of sand.
CBS 8 sent pictures and video of the eggs to Sheila Madrak, assistant professor of Biology at San Diego Miramar College. Madrak got her PhD studying the sea turtles that live in San Diego Bay.
“When I first heard that there were possible eggs, I was pretty skeptical. Then when I saw the video I thought, yeah, those look like sea turtle eggs to me. They have the shape, they have the texture, the character that they would have if they had recently hatched or washed up," Madrak said.
The egg shells were strewn along in the seaweed. Sea turtles typically nest along the Baja California Sur coast, far south of Imperial Beach, from June through September. The baby turtles hatch weeks later. Madrak says, “Although it’s certainly possible, it’s not probably that they were from a local nest. Where they appear to be found in the seaweed, to me it looks like they washed up. From where? I don’t know. Typically once sea turtle eggs are submerged in sea water, they are no longer viable.”
While sea turtles live in the waters off San Diego, they don’t actually lay eggs here. “This is a little cold for nesting beaches,” Madrak said.
According to NOAA, “The temperature of the developing eggs is what decides whether the offspring will be male or female. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD."
Research shows that if a turtle's eggs incubate below 81.86° Fahrenheit, the turtle hatchlings will be male. If the eggs incubate 88.8° Fahrenheit, the hatchlings will be female. Temperatures that fluctuate between the two extremes will produce a mix of male and female baby turtles.
“With climate change, it’s very concerning. If those temperatures get too warm, you have all female nests. And that's something we're seeing coming out of Florida. They're seeing predominantly female nests. If you have only female turtles that’s not going to be very productive for the populations long term," Madrak said.
But on the East Coast, scientists are starting to see turtles nest further North. The turtles are looking for the right temperature for their nests. Madrak says this could be an important discovery in Imperial Beach. She says, “It is conceivable that we may see the same thing on the western United States where nests are actually a little too warm in Baja and you might see some individuals who are less experienced nesters potentially try to lay a little further north. So that's not out of the realm of possibility.”
The Imperial Beach lifeguards took the eggs away and we’re actually trying to track them down so NOAA can test them. Through genetic testing they can find out what kind of turtle it is and where it lives. The turtles that live off San Diego Bay are genetically different than the turtles that live around Hawaii.
If you think you spot turtle eggs walking along the beach, call the lifeguards. And contact NOAA. It’s a federal offense to possess turtle eggs because they are endangered.
So, are these Imperial Beach eggs from a local turtle? A turtle who nested here? Or are they from eggs that washed all the way up from the coast of Baja California Sur?
"There are a number of different things that could have happened. We don’t know well enough to say definitively they absolutely would never nest here. Given the fact we have turtles in the waters off our shores, in our bays here, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that a turtle found its way, ended up depositing a nest, and they hatched out,” Madrak said.
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