11 Down; 2 To Go

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 afternoonIMG_0742

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.IMG_0745

Then in the distance we saw an adult turtle on the beach. Maybe we’d see one laying eggs. IMG_0759

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!

Turtle Talk

Last weekend we attempted to complete #10 on our list of 13 in 13. After studying the information posted on the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch website, we drove to Fernandina Beach on Friday and checked out the nests around Main Beach Park. We decided on this part of the beach based on the number of nests, dates eggs were laid in the nests, and our ability to ride bikes on this stretch of the beach. Riding bikes enabled us to cover more than three miles of beach in our search for hatchlings.

Friday evening we surveyed the nests taking note of which ones were most likely to hatch, and then on Saturday before sunrise, we rode from south of Main Street Park to Fort Clinch in search of newly hatched sea turtles making their way to the ocean.

We found eggs shells. We spied turtle tracks. We did not see any hatchlings. We were too late.

We noted the location of nests likely to hatch in the next few weeks so we can make a return trip for another attempt.

While we failed to see hatching sea turtles, we enjoyed riding bikes on the beach.

We witnessed a gorgeous sunrise.

Best of all, we spent the day with Sarah.beachpic

And we have a excuse for another trip to the beach.

 

 

 

 

They’re Hatching!

Ten years ago we participated in a turtle walk in Brevard County and watched a loggerhead turtle deposit more than 100 eggs in the nest she prepared. For over an hour we watched her drop the eggs, cover the nest, and then lumber back to the Atlantic where she finally managed to swim away from the curious onlookers.loggerhead

One of my goals for this summer (and another of the items on the 13 in 13 list) is to witness sea turtles emerging from their nest. Thousands of nests have been built with tens of thousands eggs waiting to hatch. Since nesting began in early May and the average incubation period is 55 days, turtles are emerging along the coast of Florida.

While the Atlantic coast between Brevard and Broward counties contain the largest concentration of nests, we’re headed to Amelia Island for our first attempt this summer. The website for Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch details a nest summary which includes the date created, location, and excavation information. They’re hatching!

Hope to see this soon!
Hope to see this soon!

With a little luck we’ll witness the hatchlings emerge from their nests. I’ll keep you posted!