Thursday, September 2, 2010

Turtle Hatching

Tonight, the night before hurricane Earl brushes by our coastline, a turtle nest 'boiled'. It was the 48th night after the eggs were laid. The turtle patrol for Ocean Isle Beach have been monitoring each of our nests for weeks and weeks. Yesterday, the nest's top dropped by 6 inches into a concave shape to let us know the turtles were hatching and moving around below. As the turtles move out of their shell, the sand shifts and is no longer flat on top. That's the way the patrol knows they are down there eating the inside of the shells, getting strong and ready for their march to the sea.

As they dig their way out of the nest, there is always an audience waiting anxiously to see these sweet creatures get ready for the swim of their lives.

The turtles seek light as a guide to the sea. The patrol will dig a trough to ease their trek to the ocean and provide a light to guide them. When they have imprinted long enough to know where to return to find their place of birth, the turtles are helped into a tub and brought to the water's edge.

The mother turtles usually lay their eggs in the lower part of the beach strand where beach goers walk. After the patrol spots a new nest, the nest is dug up and each egg is carefully placed in a new nest the same shape and in the same order they were laid, counting as they go. This new nest is in a safe place in the dunes, away from beach goers and covered with screening to keep out crabs, fox, opossum and racoons.
After this is done,the waiting begins. Since it's been a very warm summer, the usual 55 days to hatching was a lot shorter. As soon as there is movement at the site, patrol members and visitors keep a nightly vigil waiting for them to hatch.

People who rent or live on the first row of homes on the ocean front are asked to keep their outside lights out so the turtles won't travel in the wrong direction. Any visitors are told not to have their flashlights on and the awaiting crowd sits in the dark and talk or just enjoy the beautiful night sky - waiting.

When the boil (many turtles bubbling up to the surface at the same time) arrives, the patrol jumps into action to help the babies to the ocean. The visitors watch this wonderful site as I did tonight. (well now it's technically tomorrow as I write this!)

When the tub is brought to the ocean's edge, all visitors are asked to stay on the dry part of the strand and when the turtles are released, everyone stands firmly in place because the tide goes in and out and no one wants to step on any of them.
I've seen some turtles take 15 or more minutes to really get into the water because they kept on being swept back to land over and over.
Tonight, it was one wave and they were gone to make that dangerous swim way out in the ocean to the seaweed mats called the Sargassum sea. Sargassum is a type of seaweed (class) Phaeophyceae, macroalga (seaweed) in the order Fucales.
It's a long and dangerous trip and not many make it because they are a tasty dish to a lot of predators.

For the ones that do, the female will return many years later to the same beach to lay their eggs.
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