Unlike last summer, we didn’t plan this year’s trip to the beach as a turtle adventure; however, to our surprise Manasota Key turned out to be a sea turtle paradise. Upon check in, the woman at the desk pointed out the turtle information in the packet and told us that a turtle recently came ashore during the middle of the day and laid its eggs at the corner of the building in which we’d be staying. It was even difficult to find a place to set up chairs and umbrellas around all of the nests.
Then while walking taking a walk on our first night, we noticed turtle tracks on the beach and saw a loggerhead returning to the gulf after making a false crawl. Even though we didn’t see any turtles laying eggs, it’s still pretty amazing to see one on the beach lumbering through the sand.
The next day as we headed out to fish from the shore we met Richard, a volunteer with the Coastal Wildlife Club Turtle Patrol. His job that morning was to excavate a nest that hatched three days earlier to take a count of the number of turtles that hatched and to determine if any hatchlings remained in the nest. When I stopped to ask about the excavation, he drafted me as his assistant.
Richard dug out the nest removing the shells as well as the unhatched eggs while I recorded the information in the notebook kept by the volunteers. He unearthed ninety-nine hatched eggs and eleven more that did not hatch and appeared as though they never developed. Before the excavation, Richard said the nests were averaging about 110 eggs, and that’s exactly what we found.
Our final morning on the beach resulted in another day of working with the Turtle Patrol volunteers. On this day, five nests invaded by predators had to be excavated in search of living turtles. In the first nest 19 hatchlings and another eight pipped eggs were removed and relocated to the Turtle Patrol headquarters for observation and release at a later time.
While three of the volunteers took care of the turtles found in the disturbed nests and then protected them with wire to discourage further problems with predators, I joined a fourth volunteer, Adam, checking on the remaining nests and looking for evidence of hatches as well as new nests. We identified two more nests predated by armadillos, two new nests – one a green turtle nest, which is not very common, and one nest that hatched.
What a great way to spend the final day at the beach!