This post is written by our dear friend Carol Jacobus. Thank you Carol for enlightening all of us and for the work you do to preserve our sea turtles.
Have you ever wondered while walking on our beautiful beaches what all the stakes and neon colored ribbon was all about? It’s to mark and identify sea turtle nests that are here in record numbers this year.
I started training this spring to be permitted to do my part in protecting this fascinating, ancient creature who has laid eggs on our beaches for eons. We hit the beach at 6:15 each morning and start looking for their distinctive tracks or crawl marks. She can weigh over 300 pounds so the marks are easy to spot. Following the crawl marks up the beach will hopefully lead us to her nest. For many reasons there are “false crawls” where she turns around and goes back out to the water.
We do our best to pinpoint the location of her egg chamber and stake it off. 45-60 days later the hatchlings break through their shells and make their way to the surface. This can take a few days as they wait for all the hatchlings to leave together. They look for the moonlight or starlight on the water’s surface and scramble to the Gulf to swim away.
This is where turning out or shielding all lights along the beach is important as they can become disoriented and walk away from the water, falling prey to many predators or ending up on the road or drowning in a pool. This is also when it’s important for all toys and furniture to be removed from the beach so they have clear access to the water.
Recently I watched a female loggerhead come to shore to lay her eggs. It takes a little over an hour for her to pull her enormous body up the beach, lay her eggs and return to the water. She digs a perfect hole about 2 feet deep, slowly and methodically switching back and forth between her 2 back flippers, resting between sets. She lays about 100 eggs that look like ping pong balls then covers them back up, patting down the sand. When finished, she throws sand over the entire area with her front flippers to possibly disguise the nest. She slowly pulls her way back to the Gulf. I’ve been told she repeats this process 3-4 times during the season and is so exhausted she won’t lay eggs again for 3 years!
There are thousands and thousands of hatchlings this season but with the odds of only 1 in 1000 surviving to adulthood and adulthood being 25 years old (that’s before she can reproduce!) you can see why they are endangered.
Florida is the #1 place for sea turtle nests in North America! We can all do our part to help with the survival of our sea turtles by keeping our beaches clean, turning out beachfront lights during nesting season and leaving the beach exactly as you found it.
This week I ran across my first nest with hatchlings struggling to get to the surface. It was 11 in the morning so the bright sun was disorienting to them and the heat of the day was dangerous for dehydration. My fellow turtle patrol people and I put them in a bucket and took them to the water where we watched them run to the waves and swim off to the complete unknown. Completely overwhelmed with emotion, I thought about them all night long, wondering if they survived. Wondering if my small part will have anything to do with the 1 in 1000 that will survive. I do hope so!