One of the amazing creatures we are so fortunate to have visit our shores is the sea turtle. Did you know all sea turtle species are threatened or endangered? Over the years, we have had the opportunity to witness several Loggerhead sea turtle nest excavations performed by volunteers of the Sea Turtle Patrols who monitor the beaches of Florida’s Suncoast. We’ve also witnessed releases of different types of sea turtles who have spent some period of time at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s Turtle Hospital for rehabilitation and are being released back into the wild.
Groups of volunteers get up before the crack of dawn to walk Florida beaches and look for turtle tracks. They then determine if those flipper patterns that resemble tire tracks indicate a false crawl or whether eggs were actually laid somewhere. Sometimes a female sea turtle may come on shore and either get frightened, disoriented, interrupted or for whatever reason decide she’s not in the mood to do all that work of digging a hole in the sand in which to deposit her eggs. That’s called a false crawl. I’m a procrastinator too, so I can empathize.
If the volunteers do find a nest, they protect that space with a sign and stakes for the humans and with a wire basket against beach predators like raccoons and keep an eye on it over the coming 8 weeks or so.
What a wonderful sight to see when there are many successful nests being protected, such as these on Anna Maria Island! Occasionally, a series of bad weather events may flood out the nests and destroy the eggs but overall they do pretty well.
Eventually the Turtle Patrol volunteers will find that the nest has boiled – meaning dozens of adorable tiny baby turtles have made their way up through the sand and hopefully safely to the water. I’ve only seen nest boils on youtube but it is a sight! I bet it’s amazing to see in person.
Several days later, volunteers will don gloves and carefully dig into the nest site by hand, placing any finds on a sifter tray. The eggs give the volunteers lots of information which they then log. They count the approximate total number of eggs (often close to 100), as well as how many eggs hatched, how many did not, how many hatchlings were found alive, how many were not. Those that are found alive are either helped to the water or taken somewhere safe in a bucket until nightfall when they are released under the cover of darkness to give them a better chance at survival.
Interestingly, but sadly, some hatchlings don’t make it out of their shell. Some make it out and you can still see the egg sac attached to them.
Happily, many others do make it!
Look at how tiny they are! Most adults will get to around 300 pounds but some have been found to weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.
Sea turtles face many challenges, including natural predators who snatch them up before they ever reach water, and humans. We always make sure to fill up any holes the kids dig at the beach so the turtle hatchlings won’t get stuck and exhaust themselves or die. We always take all our trash with us off the beach (as well as trash left behind by others when we can) and we never release helium balloons, which have harmed and killed so much wildlife.
It’s a happy day when a rehabilitated sea turtle is healthy enough to return to its home in the wild! It makes for a great news story too.
I like to imagine this Loggerhead was very happy to get back out to sea.
If you’d like to witness a sea turtle nest excavation or turtle release, contact the turtle patrols in your area. They sometimes announce excavations on their Facebook pages as well. In the Sarasota-Bradenton area, we have groups such as Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Longboat Key Turtle Watch. The Coastal Wildlife Club covers parts of Charlotte and Sarasota counties.You can read details about each of the current and former turtle patients at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s Turtle Hospital including where they were found, updates on their condition and clinical progress, release dates and so forth.
Sea turtle season is from April to October. Nest excavations may be early in the mornings, but they’re still turtley awesome! And the neat thing about some of the releases is that you can then track the turtles via the Sea Turtle and Shark Satellite Tracking System which makes for a great project for kids. Finally, you can also help support sea turtle conservation efforts by purchasing a Florida Sea Turtle License Plate.