Hatching Sea Turtles

From the moment we arrived at the beach we discovered that there were sea turtle nests all up and down the shoreline.  Off handedly I mentioned how cool it would be to get to see those little creatures hatch.  However, never in a million years did I think that would actually happen.

Sea Turtles, or as we were told, the Loggerhead variety on the beaches we visited this year,  are creatures of habit.  The females crawl up onto the beaches (usually at nighttime) to lay their eggs during the same time each year; typically from July-October.  After the eggs have been laid and covered back up with sand, the female goes back into the ocean while the eggs are left on the beach to hatch.

Hatching occurs anywhere from 55-70 days, often times hatching at two different times per nest.  The average number of eggs laid is about 110.  Whenever we discovered the nest closest to us had already hatched the first time, we kept our eye on it daily to see if the others were getting close to hatching too.

Whenever it is time for the eggs to hatch, you will see this tarp leading down to the water.  The turtles are attracted to light and get confused as they attempt to make their way there.  This keeps them on track for making it there.

Since the eggs are most likely to hatch during dusk (right when the sun goes down, actually), we made sure to walk across to the beach each evening to check on the progress.  While we were checking one evening, a call came in to one of the volunteers we were talking to saying that another nest was hatching about a mile down the beach.  We looked at each other and took off running as fast as we could to see those baby turtles enter the water.  Whenever I finally arrived, I got to see the last few make their way into the waves.
              I know the lighting is poor in this photo, but no flash photography was allowed.

Not all sea turtle eggs hatch, however.  After the first group from a nest hatches, the volunteers keep a close eye on the nest even listening to the sounds from it with a stethoscope that is attached to it.  If in three days the remaining eggs have not hatched, then the nest must be excavated to see what is going on.  Usually there are a lot of infertile eggs, but occasionally there are a couple of turtles that have hatched that just can't make their way to the surface.  That was the case with the nest we had been watching all week.
  Here is the stethoscope where you can hear any movement the hatching turtles might be making.

On the third day we were told that the nest would be excavated around 7:30 p.m. so we were sure to show up at that time.
The volunteers are members of an organization called, Share the Beach.  These volunteers can be seen throughout the day checking the nests and preparing them for hatching.  Here, they are excavating the nest.
One person removes all of the unhatched eggs, while the others lay them out on a sheet that has numbered circles so they can record the number that did not hatch.

It was really sort of sad because only one turtle survived.  All of the eggs were infertile except two.  One of those turtles was not alive and one survived.  I believe the first hatching of this nest was around 50 and then these forty-something did not hatch.
The volunteer put on gloves and placed this lone turtle in a plastic bucket with some sand.  It was then taken to the end of the shoot (closer to the water), where we watched it make its way to the  water, where the waves would wash it into the ocean.

This was such an awesome experience and I am so glad that I got to participate in it.  But, I must say that I felt really bad about that lone little turtle washing out to sea by itself.  I suppose I didn't feel that way about the numerous ones doing the same thing and it was most likely just my maternal instinct rearing its head.  I had to wonder how that lone little creature, so small, could survive the tumultuous waves and prey that would surely be waiting for it.  But then I had to tell myself that this is the way nature intended things to be.

Click the link if you would like to learn more about Sea Turtles.  If you are in the Alabama coast area and would like to find out more about the nests there and where they are located and expected to hatch click on Share the Beach.  Or just look for one of the volunteers who may be walking up and down the beach to check on the nests.

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