By Mary Pringle for Island Eye News
We have reached the busiest point in the 2019 nesting season when hatchlings are coming out of the nests and new nests are still being laid. The average incubation time is 45 to 60 days. These eggs depend on constant heat in the sun-warmed sand to develop and hatch. Nests laid early in May generally take longer than those laid later in the season. This is because the temperature not only determines the length before they hatch but also the sex of the hatchlings. Early in the season before the summer gets very hot means a longer incubation and more male turtles. Later in the season more females are produced because of more heat.
We had 20 May nests this year and as of July 24, 15 of them had hatched and emerged from the nests. Average incubation duration is now at 58.1 days. Average hatch success is at 81.7%.
The Turtle Team follows the rules of the SC Department of Natural Resources, which require that we wait at least 72 hours after each nest produces the first turtles to excavate and document the results found under the sand. This includes empty eggshells, unhatched/undeveloped eggs, dead hatchlings and live hatchlings. This information is put into a central database that includes all of the nests in NC, SC, GA and even some Florida nests. So this includes every egg, every hatched turtle and every turtle who made it out onto the beach and into the ocean.
After this three day waiting period most of the tiny loggerheads are gone, but sometimes there are a few left. These may be slower to develop, have birth defects or have been tangled in roots. Some may have flippers that are weak or not functioning well making digging out difficult. We release them to crawl to the ocean giving them a chance for survival.
Unfortunately most hatchlings are eaten by predators in the ocean the first day after they enter the water. But with so many thousands of them making this first dangerous swim to the relative safety of the sargassum weed in the Gulf Stream, it is ensured that some of them will survive the 25 to 30 years that it takes them to mature to adulthood.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A TINY TURTLE ON THE BEACH?
If the hatchling is energetic and almost to the water, do not pick it up but follow it and protect it from harm until it swims away. If it is injured or too weak to swim away or if you find one washed back by the waves who will not swim away, you can call the police at 843-886-6522 and report it. Someone from the Turtle Team will come and collect it.