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Marine Turtle Nest - Gnejna Bay

An event which came to the surprise of many – a marine turtle laid 79 eggs at Ġnejna Bay, on the night between 20 & 21 June 2012. This is a special event since this case is the first confirmed sea turtle nesting event in Malta in almost a century.

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

Action taken in connection with the turtle nesting

As soon as MEPA officials were made aware of the nesting, they went on site to assess the situation and discuss the most appropriate way forward. Experts have indicated that the eggs had to be relocated because they were too close to the sea and hence risked being damaged completely if the sea became rough.

Foreign-trained experts from MEPA, Fisheries and Nature Trust Malta carefully constructed a nest to shift the eggs further away from the waterline for greater safety. This involved the movement of 79 eggs to a new location according to a process that preserved the same orientation and positions in which the eggs were laid, which was imperative so as not to disrupt and damage the eggs.

The transfer time was brief and relocation was within the same beach, hence was effected with the least modifications in temperature possible.

Safeguarding of the turtle eggs

The site to where the eggs were relocated has been cordoned-off and there was immediate 24-hour surveillance set up, coordinated by MEPA in liaison with the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment; the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs; and Nature Trust Malta, with assistance from the Malta Police Force and the Mġarr Local Council. Surveillance is of utmost importance such that the nesting site does not sustain any negative impacts. Such joint effort is of utmost importance and MEPA has welcomed all assistance provided.

The cordoning was done through poles and other material made from wood, and fluorescent tape. The area which has been cordoned off includes relevant signs  providing some information for the general public.

Another method employed for protecting turtle nests from predators was the use of an ‘open’ self releasing, aluminium cage (shown below). This cage, which lacks any form of netting, is constructed wide enough to allow the hatchlings to head for the sea as soon as they emerge from the sand. In this way the chance of the hatchlings getting restricted from emerging and getting killed by the prolonged exposure to the sun is reduced. 

'Open' Self Releasing Aluminium Cage

Such cages have been used in the Cyprus Conservation project since 1995, and the studies carried out in Cyprus since then have confirmed the utility of this kind of construction. The cage illustrated in the image above was in fact constructed after consultation with the Cypriot scientist A. Demetropolous.

Amongst the threats to turtle nests, there is the issue of predators, for instance dogs. These cages have proved to be effective against such predators, as when they dig they do so only outside the cage until they find the first cage ring, which is buried 15cm below the sand surface, and then they usually stop.

An Emergency Conservation Order (Government Notice) has been published. Further details on this are being provided below.

Protection of turtles

The loggerhead turtle (Maltese: il-fekruna l-komuni), scientifically known as Caretta caretta, is a marine reptile which is strictly protected by a number of national and international legislation. These include the local Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitat Protection Regulations, 2006 (Legal Notice 311 of 2006 as amended), the EU Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention and the United Nations’ Bonn and Barcelona Conventions. Capture, killing, taking, keeping, trade and the deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing and migration, is prohibited.

This hence calls for the protection of marine turtles, including marine turtle eggs. Capture, killing, taking, keeping, trade and the deliberate disturbance of turtle eggs, live or dead turtle hatchlings or adult turtles is strictly prohibited, unless permitted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority for justified reasons.

Food web of the Loggerhead turtle

Loggerhead turtle (food web)

A once-in-a-century event

Ġnejna and Golden Bay are known to have served as nesting sites for turtles in the past. This case is the first confirmed sea turtle nesting event in Malta in almost a century, although other scientifically unconfirmed records of such events have been reported from other beaches in the last 100 years, including a possible nesting in Golden Bay and Comino.

Turtles normally come up to three times in a season (and then skip some years) to lay eggs, and hence there is the possibility that the turtle in question returns to lay the 2nd or 3rd cluster of eggs (if the one laid had not been her last cluster).

Turtles are known to live many years, with some species maturing at an age greater than 35 years . Interestingly they lay their eggs on the same beach on which they were born.

The time required for the eggs take to hatch and the likelihood of such an event

Normally, hatchlings break out of their shells around 60 days after the eggs are laid. They use what is called the ‘egg tooth’ which is a temporary structure on top of their beak to break the eggs and then dig their way out of the sand and make their way to the sea.

Interestingly, the sand temperature will determine the sex of these hatchlings, with the ones in the cooler parts resulting in males and a higher temperature resulting in females.

If the turtles hatch…

It would of utmost importance that disturbance is kept to a minimum, while any necessary conservation measures are considered by experts in the field.

As indicated beforehand, disturbance to, handling or capturing of turtle eggs, live or dead turtle hatchlings or adult turtles is strictly prohibited, unless permitted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority for justified reasons.

A word of caution

As indicated above, turtles are a particularly important species, and indeed they are protected through various legislation. In addition, the marine turtle nesting event is a rarity for Malta. Thus, all precautions to safeguard the laid eggs are being taken.

An Emergency Conservation Order (
Government Notice), in relation to Ġnejna Bay, has been published, for the purpose of conserving the nesting site of the marine turtle.

The Emergency Conservation Order prohibits a number of activities from being carried out in the designated area including:

  • vehicular parking and use of caravans in the Emergency Conservation Area;
  • excessive noise and loud music; no music is allowed between 20:00 hrs and 08:00 hrs;
  • camping, campfires, barbeques, any other open fires, or any large organised events are not permissible at all times;
  • no animals shall be allowed on the Ġnejna bay;
  • offroading;
  • only manual beach cleaning is allowed, and this is not allowed in the areas cordoned off, unless there is prior consultation with MEPA;
  • beach users shall not trespass any enclosures at all times;
  • any large, deep holes left by beach users shall be filled in before leaving the area.

The general public is also being urged not to take any pets whatsoever to Ġnejna Bay and to avoid playing loud music and making any excessive noise at all times, until further notice.

It is also encouraged that light is controlled, especially noting that turtle hatchlings rely on light from the moon or stars reflected by the sea to move towards the sea once they break out of their shells.

Further information on turtles and turtle nesting [more will be made available soon]

Emergency Conservation Order (
Government Notice)
Press Release
DOs and DON'Ts
Close-ups of Maltese Nature - The Loggerhead Turtle
Ġnejna beach granted maximum protection
Guidelines for marine turtle encounters

Contact us

Turtle tracks or observations of turtle activity should be immediately reported to MEPA on 99210404/99381811 or