Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Loggerhead Turtles

The turtle nest. Our condo was the two sliding doors directly over the swing. We had a great view of the nest

While on vacation in North Carolina, we spent a week at the coast. When we walked out on our balcony we discovered that there was a Loggerhead nest right outside our condo! We have been staying in the same complex for almost 30 years and this is the first time we have ever seen a turtle nest! We were thrilled!

Ruby and Eliza Claire posing in front of the nest.

That night we learned that not only was there a nest, but it was expected to hatch during the week we were at the beach. Now we were all beyond excited and crossing our fingers that it really would hatch and we really wouldn't miss it.

Rehm had spent several months during first grade learning about the loggerhead for a class project. We had even been to Galveston to see the loggerheads NOAA raises there - apparently I never blogged about this, so I'll have to find time to rectify that. To actually see a nest in the wild was a great treat after all that hard work.

No turtles hatched Sunday night.

Not turtles hatched Monday night.

Tuesday night I got a call from my sister at 10 pm saying they were hatching. I ran to tell Michael and grabbed the two big kids out of bed. They were so soundly asleep they didn't even know what was going on until we got on the beach.

When we arrived at the nest there was a hole in sand that was several inches in diameter. We waited and nothing happened, we waited some more. Michael decided it was time to go back up to our room in case the twins woke up. Then the turtle expert arrived and said it would definitely be that night but it could be any minute or 3 am before they hatched.

At 11 pm I called Michael and told him they were coming out of the nest. There were tiny little turtles everywhere! Due to the lights from some of the condominiums in the area many of them were going the wrong way. After trying several things to steer them the right direction volunteers had to resort to picking them up and carrying them down to the waters edge. I helped a couple make it to the water. It was very surreal to have a baby loggerhead in my hand and place it gently in the ocean. It was such an once in a lifetime experience. And those tiny little turtles, not as big as my palm, were absolutely adorable and super wiggly. Michael rescued one that was being stalked by a ghost crab. After about a half an hour it seemed they had all made it to the ocean.

We started back up to our condo and Rehm spotted another baby going the wrong direction. He says he spotted the tracks first and started looking around and then saw the turtle. I picked it up and let Rehm and Charlotte each have a turn holding it. Then I took it down to the ocean and gently placed it in the surf. Rehm was so proud of himself for saving that sea turtle's life.

Baby turtle tracks! Once you knew what to look for they were easy to spot. I snapped these pictures the next morning when we went out to the beach. There were tracks everywhere. It is amazing the distances these babies went in the wrong direction. It was neat to see that some of the tracks went all the way up to the wall but then turned and went back down to the ocean. I hope all the babies were either found and taken to the ocean or found their way on their own.

There are no pictures of the hatchlings as we were not allowed to use flash photography and without the flash the pictures turned out too dark to be able to see anything.

Here is a picture of a loggerhead hatchling so you can see how small they are.

Starting the excavation

Three nights later the turtle team came back to excavate the nest. They wait a few days to allow any stragglers a chance to make it to the ocean. In all 62 turtles hatched, 6 eggs did not hatch and then there were two eggs about the size of marbles. I never heard the explanation for the small ones. Of the ones that did not hatch one was still white and looked like a ping pong ball. It was assumed that it was an unfertilized egg. The others that didn't hatch were all a brownish color and I assumed that something happened to those that caused them not to hatch. The top of the nest was 14 inches deep in the sand. It was a small nest as they usually average about 100-125 per nest. Once everything had been counted it was all put back in the nest and buried per state law.

Counting the eggs.

Close up of the unfertilized egg.

This was such an amazing, once in a lifetime experience for our family! I am so glad we got to witness this miraculous event. I have decided that when we retire and live at the beach I want to be a "Turtle Lady." Meaning one of the volunteers that walks the beach every morning at dawn to look for newly laid nests and who sit on hatch watch when the nests are expected to hatch. Now to figure out how to afford retiring to the beach...


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