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The Marine National Park Headquarters (MNPH) and the Coast Guard Administration Southern Coastal Patrol Office Dongsha Command (Dongsha Command) discovered that the endangered species Chelonia mydas have returned to Dongsha Island of Dongsha Atoll National Park to lay eggs at around 00:00 on August 23, 2011. This is the first official record of Chelonia mydas laying eggs at the Dongsha Atoll National Park since its establishment in 2007.

According to the MNPH, the Chelonia mydas was discovered by Dongsha Command patrol personnel when it came ashore deep in the night; a report was filed to the conservation personnel of the MNPH Dongsha management station for observation and documentation. According to actual measurements, the back of the Chelonia mydas is 105cm long and it weighs over 100kg; it is large, healthy and returned to the ocean after laying eggs. The entire egg laying process took approximately one hour.

Dongsha Island is located north of the South China Sea; it is a vast and undisturbed beach. The seawaters of the Dongsha Atoll features vast seagrass bed and coral reef for the sea turtle to forage and rest. Such superior environmental conditions have created the perfect venue for the sea turtle to lay eggs. However, over the past several decades, due to illegal fishing of marine natural resources by foreign fishing boats, a large volumes of sea turtles were also caught; resulting in extremely rare sightings of sea turtles coming ashore at Dongsha Island. In 2003, Dongsha Command witnessed a female turtle coming ashore to lay eggs and left a crawling trail on the beach; however, no official observation records were made.

According to the MNPH, Chelonia mydas is a type of large sea turtle which is distributed in the temperate zone and tropics of major oceans around the world. In Taiwan, since its survival is gravely threatened, it has been listed as an endangered species, only Penghu, Lanyu, Little Liuqiu and Taiping Island have there been records of egg laying sightings. Egg laying behavior in Taiwan is now rarely seen.

Since the Dongsha Atoll National Park was founded, the MNPH has collaborated closely with the Dongsha Command to expel fishing boats that have crossed the boundary and to protect the land environment of Dongsha Island; therefore, the Chelonia mydas’ egg laying record this time is extremely valuable. Since Chelonia mydas lays up to seven lairs of eggs each season, the sea turtle may still come ashore during the egg-laying season. In the future, continual monitoring will be conducted and protection of female sea turtles laying eggs and coming ashore will be provided.

Chelonia mydas’s existence is under constant threat around the world and it has become an important species for global conservation. The return of Chelonia mydas to the Dongsha Island to lay eggs is yet another conservation success after the massive coral spawning in the Dongsha sea waters was documented for the first time in May, indicating that the conservation efforts at the Dongsha Atoll National Park has gradually paid off. In the future, the MNPH will continue to collaborate with the Dongsha Command to promote ecological conservation work, hoping to establish Dongsha Atoll National Park as the example of diverse conservation in the South China Sea.

This is the first Chelonia mydas to lay eggs on Dongsha Island in recent years (Photographer: MNPH Huang Shi-bin) Chelonia mydas returns to the ocean after laying eggs  (Photographer: MNPH Huang Shi-bin)