By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News
During the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, July 17 loggerhead Nest #1, laid on May 18, produced about 130 tiny hatchling sea turtles who made the perilous journey to the water. It took 60 days for the eggs heated by the warm sand to incubate. This is only the first 7-year-old Natalie Paige Moosman-Young from Des Peres, Missouri directs the final hatchling to the water while holding her copy of “Turtle Summer” by Mary Alice Monroe and Barbara Bergwerf. over 40 nests laid on our two islands this summer to do this, and it will continue until the end of September. The Island Turtle Team performed the nest inventory, which is required by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources no less than 72 hours after the first hatchlings emerge from the sand and crawl to the water.
The mother of these tiny two inch turtles has been laying eggs at two week intervals since May and we believe she laid her fifth nest on July 11. We cannot know for sure until we get the results of the genetic samples we have taken from her nests, but her track measurements and her preferred nesting location seem to repeat like clockwork in the Dewees Inlet area at the north end of the Isle of Palms. She is also a prolific breeder, laying at least 140 eggs every time. The average number of eggs is around 120 or slightly fewer. They normally lay an average of four to six nests at two week intervals, so she could possibly lay one more nest around July 25, or maybe not if she is finished for the season. The purpose of the nest inventory is to collect data from the outcome of each nest.
There is a standardized database at Seaturtle.org on which all of the nesting projects where sea turtles nest in states along the Atlantic Coast keep report the outcome of every egg laid in every nest and report the success or failure at the end of the season. This is a valuable resource for scientists who study sea turtle conservation and population management. At the inventory on July 20 Turtle Team members excavated the hatched nest and found that ten of the 148 eggs failed to develop. This is not unusual. Hatch success was 92.5%.
They also found that seven hatchlings had not been able to climb out of the sand after their siblings left three days earlier. We are told that these turtles, who may be weaker or slower to develop, may have some deformities, or may be caught on roots underground, would probably die if we did not release them. These hatchlings are taken part way to the water to crawl in. We never put them in the water because the crawling action is beneficial to their metabolism, getting them going toward making the trip out to the Gulf Stream which can take several days of swimming. It is also said that they could be “imprinting” on the unique sand of their natal beach. Sea turtles can also navigate on their global migrations by using the magnetic crystals that are found in their brains to read the earth’s magnetic fields. They can make this first swim without eating because of a yolk sac within their bodies which nourishes them during this perilous swim when many are eaten by predators.
The lucky ones who are able to survive, then take shelter in the Sargassum weed floating in the Gulf Stream, find their first meal among the tiny critters there, and begin a journey of over a decade that leads them eventually back to the South Carolina lowcountry to forage as juveniles before becoming adults and entering the breeding population at 25 or 30 years of age.