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Nature and its Whimsy in Santo Domingo: The Birth of the First Albino Hawksbill Sea Turtle

The Dominican Republic is an island country set directly in the path of the sun’s rays in the heart of the Caribbean. The heart of the country is the great Santo Domingo, its capital, serving as the setting for both work and play, as well as a backdrop where different species of wildlife live out part of their life cycles.

Since 2008, different species of sea turtles have been logged making their nests on the coasts of Santo Domingo. But the news that’s surprised thousands of Dominicans is the recent birth, from a nest of 104 hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), of a single albino hatchling.

The remarkable thing about this discovery is that it happened by chance after the turtle’s 103 siblings, having broken free of their shells, headed for the sea. A small group of wildlife experts, whom I recently had the pleasure of meeting, arrived to go over the nest and count the eggs, shells, and straggling hatchlings and confirm the total number of eggs deposited by the mother.

Curiosity and scientific duty prompted us to open the eggs that at first sight had not produced life; but they held a surprise that would impress many of us: an atypically colored embryo that appeared to offer no hope of survival.

With the intention of documenting the phenomenon, we went to move the egg to the beach and it was then that we noticed signs of life. We kept it in observation for 5 days, during which time the embryo absorbed the yolk that served as food during its development.

Clinging onto life, the odd-looking creature managed to win the battle, and was immortalized in these unique images taken by me that I have the pleasure of presenting to you today.

Its future is uncertain: we can’t know how long it will keep living, as without human intervention its chances are quite limited.

Managing to reach the surface of the nest independently is practically impossible, and the risks of being hunted down in its natural environment are very high. Furthermore, the sun’s rays have a strong impact on its albino skin.

While an albino hawksbill turtle is undoubtedly not new to science, it is indeed to the Dominican Republic. Other famous cases have occurred in Colombia, with the Marimonda spider monkey Snowdrop; in the United Kingdom, with an albino penguin that lived in a zoo in Bristol; and Copito de Nieve (“Snowflake”), an albino gorilla raised in a zoo in Spain—all cases in which nature exposes its whimsy for just a few humans to have to pleasure of appreciating these exotic specimens.

Today we have the privilege of offering all of you the images of this event and of assuring you that the hatchling is still alive today.