Last week I was very fortunate to attend a sea turtle nest excavation and hatchling release. The nest, which was a loggerhead nest, had 122 eggs in it, only 43% of which had turtles that hatched. There was likely saltwater intrusion into this nest that contributed to its low hatchling rate. A couple years ago I attended a sea turtle walk and got to see an adult female loggerhead dig her nest, lay her eggs, and then mask her nest. Seeing a nest excavated and the shell remnants was another neat experience to observe on the other side of the nesting timeline.
The highlight of the day was, by far, seeing 10 loggerhead hatchlings be released on the beach. These hatchlings were rescued a day or two beforehand after they got confused on their way to the water after emerging from their nest. This is a great reminder why it is so important for humans near nesting beaches to be careful with any lighting near the beaches that could confuse hatchlings. These ones were fortunate in that they were rescued. These 10 hatchlings were gently placed on the sand several feet away from the waterline on the beach…the lady releasing them wanted to be sure that they had enough contact with the sand to imprint so they can find their way back to the same beach in 25-30 years as adults to make their own nests, if they are female of course.
These hatchlings were impossibly cute! The ADORABLE hatchlings made a surprisingly fast beeline for the water….they really move quickly! A couple of them got washed back up to the shore with a wave but they did not seem to get discouraged and scrambled back to the water again. And then they were gone from our sight. They have a long journey as their destination is the Sargasso Sea about 20-40 miles off the Atlantic coast of Florida.
One disturbing fact that I learned was nearly all of the young sea turtles that wash back onto the beach following storms have been weakened by ingesting plastic debris. One awesome thing that I learned was that the survival rate for sea turtles has been improving in recent years. Now instead of about 1 in 1000 eggs surviving to adulthood, recent research is showing about 1 in 350 eggs survives. That is a big improvement and it made me so happy to hear that!
Here’s hoping that these hatchlings are safely nearing the sargassum sea beds so they can rest, eat, and be sheltered there and beat the odds to survive until adulthood.