Rare turtle lays eggs on tourist-free Thai beach

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A critically endangered turtle emerged from the sea to lay at least 80 eggs on a Thai beach just minutes before the start of World Environment Day - just one sign of how wildlife is making the most of the coronavirus pandemic limiting human movement.

The Hawksbill sea turtle chose a beach on Koh Samui, an island typically visited by several million people each year, and was tracked by veterinarians thanks to an implanted digital chip.

National park and wildlife conservation staff were on the spot to collect a blood sample and check the health of the turtle, which they estimated to be about 30 years old.

The Hawksbill's numbers have reduced significantly because of the trade in its shells, which is now illegal.

But 2020 has been a bumper year for turtles in Thailand, which has recorded the largest number of nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades, found on beaches empty of tourists.

The kingdom was visited by nearly 40 million people in 2019, but is expected to see that number slump to about 14 million this year due to the impact of the coronavirus on global travel.

With local infections slowing and restrictions easing, Thailand hopes to get tourism, which accounts for 12% of its economy, back on track through domestic promotions and by marketing itself abroad as a "trusted" destination.

Local conservationists said that on Koh Samui alone, turtles have laid eggs on more than a dozen occasions over the past four months.


(Reporting by Prapan Chankaew; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alex Richardson)