Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leatherback nest hatches in the morning 6/21/13

June 21, 2013 (Written by Debbie)

Erica and I began the turtle survey at 6:30 AM.  This is a busy time of the year (JUNE) for turtles nesting on our beaches in Palm Beach County.  Singer Island included. 
One of the loggerhead nests we came upon was located at the base of a 4 ft. escarpment at the waterline.  I dug around until I located the clutch of eggs while Erica moved directly westward of where I was working and dug a new loggerhead nest.  I was worried that we would loose that clutch of eggs at the next high tide, due to it precarious location.  That loggerhead mom just couldn't make it over the escarpment and decided to nest anyway. 
While I was removing eggs from the original nesting chamber, a few beach walkers told us that a nest was hatching at Ocean Reef Park and people were watching the emergence and keeping the crows from snatching up the hatchlings.  At this time, we didn't know which nest or what species was hatching. 
Erica and I finished relocating that clutch of 60 eggs, which is a small clutch compared to the average clutch which is about 100 eggs. 
We hurried north as we continued our nesting survey, with a nice family accompanying us down to the hatch in progress.
One lady stood watch over the nest site.  She said she was waiting for us to arrive, because she was afraid the crows would come down and try to grab a hatchling.  There at the top of the sand, were 10 little black leatherback heads sticking out of the top of the nest site.  Since it was daytime, I told everyone that was present that they could take photos.
* It is against Federal Law to bother a nesting female, or the hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean after emergence.  All of this usually takes place in the middle of the night.  People are not allowed to take flash photograpy or shine flashlights onto the turtles at night.  Marine Patrol will regularly patrol the beaches and give out tickets to those folks who may be disturbing the turtles.

When my trained/permitted volunteers see hatchlings exposed to the hot sun and the heat of the day, we know we must get them moving and into the water as soon as possible. 
I gently "tickled" up the leatherbacks that were exposed to the elements and they began moving out of the nest site and onto the early morning sand.  And from that moment, all the others that were making their way out in a large group, began to move out too.  They always try to hatch together at night in a large group, because there is safety in numbers.  Also, at night, there are less predators waiting to prey on them.  (Especially birds). 
By that time, we had a large gang of people watching all the leatherback hatchlings march down to the water and swim away.  They all stood on each side of the turtle trek and helped us watch for any crows that may try to swoop down and pick up breakfast.  One boy chased a crow when it landed, not too far from where we all stood. 
I told the people how special this event was, as we all watched in awe as 52 hatchlings emerged and ran down to the water.  Hopefully, they will survive and return to their natal beach to nest, years later.

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