Four rare albino green sea turtles hatch on Vamizi Island

Two of the four rare albino green sea turtles survived to find their way into the ocean from Vamizi Island. Photo: Joana Trindade

Two of the four rare albino green sea turtles survived to find their way into the ocean from Vamizi Island. Photo: Joana Trindade

Four rare albino green sea turtles hatched on Vamizi Island for the first time since a green sea turtle monitoring program began on the small, crescent-shaped island off northern Mozambique in 2003.

The Vamizi Conservation and Research team was surprised to discover the albino green sea turtles on a morning patrol of the island. The discovery was made on May 25, but news of it is only now starting to gain widespread attention.

The four albino green sea turtles, two of which survived to make their way into the ocean, lacked pigmentation in their eyes. Their red eyes indicated the hatchlings were true albinos.

"Albinism is often associated with other malformations, which is why most animals die a few hours after being born, so having two true albino hatchlings surviving and having no apparent external malformations can then be considered quite rare," Joana Trindade, conservation and community manager on Vamizi Island, told GrindTV.

The albino green sea turtles surprised researchers on Vamizi Island. Photo: Joana Trindade

The albino green sea turtles surprised researchers on Vamizi Island. Photo: Joana Trindade

Trindade has stated that the research team has failed to find any record of other albino green sea turtles with no pigmentation in their eyes.

"According to my research, true albinism is not very common in sea turtles," Trindade told GrindTV. "Although other records exist for albino sea turtles, the frequency at which it happens in most turtle projects is unknown as far as my research could find. This gets further complicated because the definitions of albinism vary and are inconsistent. During my research, I came across many records, which were rather white turtles, with a different condition."

Trindade said little information is available about albinism in sea turtles, adding that they intend to study the tissues from the two that didn't survive.

"By comparing the samples from the albino hatchlings to the ones with normal pigmentation, we can hopefully find out more about the mechanisms that caused this condition in this specific case and other possible consequences, and maybe even understand why two of them didn't survive," Trindade told GrindTV.

If they can survive the first few days of their journey at sea, the albino green sea turtles have a good chance at making it to adulthood. Photo: Joana Trindade

If they can survive the first few days of their journey at sea, the albino green sea turtles have a good chance at making it to adulthood. Photo: Joana Trindade

Many people questioned why the team released the albino hatchlings since albino animals usually have reduced chances of surviving.

Trindade said the project team only handled these hatchlings because they were found stuck inside the nest, otherwise they try not to interfere with the natural course of nature.

Also, to clarify, Trindade pointed out that hatchlings in general have a very low percentage of survival with only 1 in 100 or 1 in 1,000 surviving, depending on the source.

"[But] albino turtles can have a longer lifespan than many other albino animals, as their hard shells protect them from predation and other environmental challenges," Trindade told GrindTV.

"This means that if these hatchlings managed to survive the first few days of their journeys at sea, there is a good chance they will make it to adulthood like any other hatchling with normal pigmentation who also manages to survive this phase."

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