Last month we walked and rode the beach in Fernandina observing the sea turtles nests hoping to see hatchlings emerging. While we were not successful in July, we studied the dates on the nests and looked at our calendar to determine when we could return for a second attempt.
Since many of the eggs were laid between June 20th and June 30th, the weekend of August 23rd seemed like time to try again. Another bonus, the tides during this weekend would allow us to ride our bikes on the beach so we could cover more territory. We made reservations, packed our bags, loaded our bikes on the car, and took off Friday afternoon
in the pouring rain. Another weather impaired 13 in 13 adventure.
We arrived slightly before sunset so we were unable to check out the nests and their progress Friday evening. Our plan…get up at 5:30. Begin riding north on the beach by 6:00 (in the dark since sunrise was at 7:00). We rode to Ft. Clinch, past the pier.
We encountered hundreds of critters scurrying across the beach, but they were ghost crabs, not turtles.
We came across a number of horseshoe crabs.
Then in the distance we saw an adult turtle on the beach. Maybe we’d see one laying eggs.
But to our disappointment, we found that a boat propeller had sliced its shell. No egg laying turtle. A dead one.
On our way back down the beach we stopped at every nest, noted the date, and looked for evidence of activity for a return later that evening. Many of the nests, especially in the park, had been covered by screens. Something we’d never seen before, an effort to protect the eggs from a predator, possibly a fox.
Not discouraged by the lack of hatchlings we decided to attend two excavations that evening before an evening ride in which we’d see if the nests we’d identified as promising were beginning to hatch.
The excavations eliminated two of the nests we’d identified since the turtles had emerged from them three days earlier. The Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch volunteers don’t remove the stakes after the hatch instead waiting for three days at which time they complete the excavation.
During the excavation the volunteers dig out the shards as well as any unhatched eggs. Since about one third of the excavations produce an unhatched turtle, we were hopeful that we’d see at least one hatchling make its way to the ocean. The first excavation produced 121 hatched shards and the second 79 with only about a half dozen unhatched eggs in each nest. No live turtles remained in either.
We continued with our plan riding north checking nests but didn’t notice any changes from our earlier ride. As the sun set we headed south to check out our final prospect only to find it surrounded by onlookers and a volunteer, red light in hand, explaining the hatching process.
The sand “boiled” with activity as the turtles made their way to the surface. We joined twenty or thirty people patiently watching the nest for about thirty minutes when the first turtle emerged. Once the first one escaped the nest, dozens of others quickly followed. The nest emptied in less than a minute and the hatchlings fanned out toward the ocean.
We provided a human shield to block the light from the condo behind the nest and serve as a barrier to a couple of hatchlings having difficulty orienting toward the ocean, but eventually all made it to the water.
I expected this to be a slow journey to the water, but in less than ten minutes no turtles remained on land. I can hardly believe how lucky we were to not only see the turtles hatch, but to see the hatching process.
The only disappointment…no pictures. No lights permitted. No flash allowed. I did try to take pictures without a flash…nothing! But the experience is better than a picture.
Eleven down! Two to go!