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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25 Comments

  1. I LOVED watching the babies wiggle out of the nest and find their way to the sea. And I coveted the wonderful shirts the volunteers wore with TURTLE PATROL in large block print across their backs. Maybe someday I will live somewhere like Edisto and can earn the right to wear one!!!

    Reply

  2. They are amazing critters. In Daytona, the outdoor lights have to be blacked out in the beach side. Curtains must be shut at night. This is all to prevent the turtles being attracted to the shore instead of the ocean. I was able to hold several juvenile turtles in a hatchery in Grand Cayman. Great experience.

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  3. Emilie – I, too, have a special connection to sea turtles – Saw them in Baja when I was much younger and went there on surfing trips with my husband and son in law.
    Also, had a big seat turtle experience in Costa Rica camping out on the beach there… So, I understand.
    I love this blog and receiving this wonderful information where good people intervene for the sake of life to thrive.
    Wonderful and thank you for sharing! xox Ruby

    Reply

  4. A lovely story. Loggerhead turtles also nest in various beaches along the Aegean coast of Turkey. There’s constant pressure from developers. Turtles and tourism now co-exist (just).

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    1. And some of those turtles actually swim out across the whole ocean! It is amazing. I tag sea turtles in Mexico, and it is amazing enough to find they swim out across the Sea of Cortez. Swimming the Atlantic or Pacific is unimaginable.
      I a so glad people are finally earning to live with the turtles.

      Reply

  5. That volunteering sounds exciting. We’ve observed volunteers banding birds at the Hassayampa River Nature Conservancy Preserve in central AZ, and the excitement around those people and that activity is marvelous. The better side of humanity.

    Reply

  6. Wonderful to see this, Emilie! I’m ever impressed with both your writing and your photos, and haven’t met a turtle in the last (almost) decade without thinking about you and appreciating your good tortuga work…

    Reply

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