After completing our morning nesting survey on South Singer Inland we were ready to excavate two hatched nests in order to record the hatching sucess of those nests.
The first nest, a leatherback named Jody, who nested on April 24th, was spotted by one of the biologists from the Juno Marinelife Center on that date. All night the biologists drive from the Jupiter Inlet to the Palm Beach Inlet hoping to encounter nesting leatherbacks. Once one is spotted, they check for pit tags on the flippers of the turtle. From those numbers, much information about that individual turtle can be found in their data banks. For example: what date she was first encountered, what her name is, what years she returned, how many times this season she has been found nesting, and more. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle in the world and can grow to be 2,000 lbs. It swims the farthest, dives the deepest, can take the coldest waters, and loves to eat Jellyfish. This is also the only species of sea turtle with a smooth carapace (shell) that feels something like an eggplant. (All the other species have a hard carapace.) The Sea Turtle Conservation League's Logo shows the leatherback. A very impressive turtle~! (For more information about the Leatherback study you can go to: floridaleatherbacks.com).
Jody's nest hatched on July 2nd. After waiting the required 72 hours to do our excavation, (which allows most of the hatchlings to emerge and make their run to the water), we were ready to dig~!
We had a large entourage of tourists and locals eager to see what we were doing. This is the best time for my volunteers to educate the public about the sea turtles plight.
First, we push back the dry sand and then begin our decent down into the egg chamber, which is hidden deep in the sand. The heat of the sand is what incubates the eggs. Once the mother turtle has nested she never returns to her nest and she may lay up to six nests in one summer in 9 to 10 day intervals.
This was a deep nest, about 6 ft. deep. Half way down I felt the front flippers of a hatchling. Sure enough, there was a little black leatherback hatchling with white longitude lines along its carapace, still making its journey to the top of the nest site. Then 3 more leatherback hatchlings came to the light. Four in all~! They were all healthy, but not ready to be released into the ocean. Two of my volunteers, Christine and Anastasia were also helping me, by passing out our brochures and helping to answer any questions. Anastasia also helped with the excavation. The people were able to take photos of the hatchlings. Seeing a leatherback hatchling is an unusual treat, because they are critically endangered.
We counted 85 hatched shells, 4 were found alive, and 2 were found dead. This is the only species of sea turtle that has "spacers". They are smaller different sized yokeless eggs, which can be the size of a pea to the size of a ping pong ball. These spacers are randomly deposited into the nest as the mother turtles lays her eggs. The leatherbacks eggs are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Since they are so large and are incubating so deeply in the sand, the spacers help to provide the proper environment for the eggs to develope. We counted 62 spacers of various sizes with this nest.
This was a very successful nest. Hopefully, one of these hatchlings will survive and return to Singer Island to nest one day.
The next nest we excavated was a Loggerhead sea turtle, named for its large head and strong jaws. These turtles grow to be on average about 350 lbs. Most of the nests on Singer Island are loggerhead nests. The loggerhead is classified as threatened, one notch down from endangered. Our loggerhead nesting numbers have been down for the past 5 yrs., but this 2012 season is looking fantastic as reported from other Permit Holders like me, from all around the state of Florida. These turtles have a varied diet compared to the others, and will eat, clams, crustaceans, and jelly fish.
Anastasia began to excavate this nest which was laid on May 8th and hatched on July 6th. Just 6 in. underneath the sand she encountered 9 living loggerhead hatchlings. The crowd was so excited and many folks made a nice smooth pathway for the little babies to follow down to the water. It was a nice treat to show the differences between the two species. The loggerhead hatchling is a rusty grey color and can blend very nicely into the sargassum sea weed beds that lay at least 10 miles off our shores. This is the place the hatchlings will swim to try to encounter once they leave the beach. There, they will find food and shelter for at least the first year of life.
As Anastasia continued down, she pulled up 11 pipped alive loggerheads. Pipped means that the turtle has bitten open its shell and is trying to wiggle its way out. We were able to watch two hatchlings go through the complete endeavor, until they were completely out of the shell. These 11 hatchlings had absorbed their yolk sac, but were not quite ready to be released into the water.
The final count on this nest was: 53 hatched eggs, 9 alive, 2 dead, 3 infertile, 11 pipped alive, and 3 pipped dead.
I took the bucket of hatchlings (4 leatherback and 11 loggerhead), up to the Juno Marinelife Center. They hold them until they are ready to be released into the ocean. And these are VIP hatchlings, because they are lucky enough to get a nice boatride out to the sargassum seaweed beds, where they are released. Maybe they will meet a few of their nest-mates, who have made it on their own. I sure do hope so.