Turtles, Part I

I am a turtle person.

I became one in a brief moment in the late summer of 1990 on a boat as I crossed Lago Atitlán in Guatemala. I saw a vision that included a sea turtle and I have had a powerful connection with turtles ever since. And before you roll your eyes at my vision, know I never much believed in them until I had one.

But this is not the story of that vision I had twenty-six years ago. This is the story of loggerhead turtles emerging from their nests, in what is called an eruption, on Edisto Island in South Carolina.

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I was there with my sister and her family for about eight days. As soon as I knew I was coming I contacted the island’s turtle project. The day after I arrived my sister and I went to a turtle presentation held at a local coffeehouse.

http://www.townofedistobeach.com/loggerhead-sea-turtles   (Sorry, the link wouldn’t attach correctly. Copy and paste if you’d like to take a look.)

There I met Pat and Susan, two turtle volunteers. The crowd at the coffeehouse learned that due to beach erosion, a climate change problem, turtles often have to lay their eggs too close to the shore and can wash away in a storm or be filled with seawater during high tide. If that happens, the babies will drown because the eggshells are permeable. So far this year about 90% of the nests on Edisto have had to be relocated to higher ground.

 

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You can see the erosion in this photo of a turtle “runway”

To locate a nest, Turtle Patrol volunteers walk the beach each dawn during nesting season, May through early August. Volunteers look for mama turtle tracks to and from a nesting site. Then they use a probe, shown below, to find the nest. They start away from the nest to get a feel for the density of the sand and move closer. When the density changes and becomes less dense, they know they’ve found the nest.

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Two turtle volunteers with a probe

When a nest is found, volunteers rope it off, moving it first if necessary, then date it and number it. That way they know when the eggs in each location will be ready to hatch.

Weather helps determine how long it takes the eggs to hatch, which is anywhere from about fifty-eight to sixty-three days. Both weather and placement in the nest help determine the babies’ sex. More males hatch in cooler weather, more females in warmer weather. More males are located at the bottom of the nest where it’s cooler and more females are at the top.

Sixty days or so after the eggs are laid, the turtle babies begin to hatch and their movement causes the nest to sink. When patrol members see the sinking, they create a sort of runway for the babies and put black plastic along the back and sides of the nest to force the babies toward the sea. Two to three days after the nest begins to sink, the turtles begin to emerge.

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Crowd waits by the runway

An eruption.

Next blog post will be about the eruption and the babies!

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