- Fossilised tracks made by ancient baby sea turtles as they ran "the gauntlet" from nest to the ocean have been found in locations along South Africa’s Cape South Coast.
- They are the first fossilised sea turtle hatchling tracks known to fossil record.
- The find was so new to science that the researchers had to invent a new scientific term for the tracks, no called “Marineropodidae” meaning “seafarer foot traces”.
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Fossilised tracks made by ancient baby sea turtles as they ran "the gauntlet" from nest to the ocean have been found in locations along South Africa’s Cape South Coast.
These tracks have considerable ichnological and paleobiological significance, as the first sea turtle hatchling tracks known to fossil records.
The find is in an area otherwise dominated by mammal and bird tracks.
The find was so new to science that the researchers even had to invent a new scientific term for the tracks, which they have coined “Marineropodidae” meaning “seafarer foot traces”.
Researchers from South Africa, the United States, and Canada produced their findings in the journal Quaternary Research, detailing two sites east of Still Bay, and a third near the Garden Route National Park.
The turtle tracks were spotted by co-author Jan De Vynck and colleagues on a large rock surface in 2016, where it is theorised the seven nearly parallel trails were heading southward toward the sea.
Since then other sites have been found, two of them within a few kilometres of the first. The third site is about 100 kilometres to the east, and possibly shows evidence of the nest from which the hatchlings emerged.
The tracks are around 100,00 years old, dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch. This was a time characterised by global climate change with ice sheets melting and causing the ocean off the Cape South Coast to rise by as much as 13 metres above present-day levels.
Until the find there was no known trace of any kind of sea turtle activity for the last 150 million years –t he last being fossils of giant sea turtle tracks found in western Europe – which were made by adults touching the sea bed with their paddles while swimming during the Jurassic period.
The tracks were made by two new and highly distinctive turtles (also previously undiscovered) which were named Australochelichnus agulhasii and Marinerichnus latus. Before the find there were only known fossil turtle tracks made by fresh water species that lived in lakes and ponds in Europe, North America, and Asia.
It appears the Cape South Coast was considerably warmer 100,000 years ago. Modern-day turtles can only found nesting over 1,000 km to the northeast, around the St Lucia coast and near the border with Mozambique, where it is considerably more tropical.
Compiled by Jay Caboz.
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