Report From the Beach: August

A busy time at the beach for the Island Turtle Team.  In the morning we get word about turtle tracks and race to find the nests, and in the evenings we act as midwives to the nests, guiding the hatchlings safely to the sea.  This summer we're getting a lot of nests. And not only are the turtles keeping us on our toes—the ghost crabs are taking a turn at it!

At 6:30 am Sunday morning I awoke thinking we had two inventories scheduled.  I could get them done and be home for coffee and the newpaper by the time my husband woke up.  An inventory is an investigation of a nest three days post the hatchlings emergence. We open the nest and count the hatched and unhatched eggs, and if we’re lucky, we discover a few straggler hatchlings that might not have made it out of the nest without our help.

On our way, we got notice that not one but two sets of turtle tracks were located by volunteers. The Turtle Team was scheduled to begin the morning's inventories at 7:30 am so we kicked into high gear. We were tag teaming and scrambling to take care of relocating and marking these new nests and still getting to the 6th Avenue inventory on time. Proud to say we settled the "twins" in record time.

We hurried back to our cars and arrived at 6th Avenue just in time. A small crowd was already waiting with lots of children eagerly tugging parents closer to the nest. Unfortunately for the kids, this nest did not have any live hatchlings to see. But they were happy to see the eggs. “They look like ping pong balls” is the usual comment. We said goodbye and rushed off to our second inventory. We arrived at Dewees Inlet a few minutes after 8:00 am. I was doing this inventory with Bev. Opening the nest I noticed a foul stench which can mean trouble. We dug so deep I had to lie on the sand digging to find the eggs. At last I felt the familiar hard shell and found a few hatchlings stuck in the hard sand. Do you remember the Clay People in Flash Gordon? That’s what this looks like. The turtles are motionless in the hard sand until we loosen them out.

So there I am, shoulder deep, nose to the sand, and I begin pulling out a hatchling when out from the hole leaps the biggest, freakiest ghost crab I’d ever seen! Whoa!  It flew past my face, claws straight out, its funny eyes large black dots seemingly staring in my face. There was a collective gasp and squeal as everyone took a step back. I think I jumped back as far as the ghost crab!

Once I collected my wits I was so angry at that crab for having the audacity to try to kill the hatchlings that I grabbed a stick and... well, let’s just say that crab will not bother other hatchlings again.  Imagine having to stick your hand back in a dark hole after that!  Having a monster ghost crab leap out at us was a turtle team first!

None of the 16 hatchlings we found in the nest were injured. Fortunately we got there before Mr. Crab could do his damage. The tide was going out and we released these healthy hatchlings from the red bucket to the sand. We watched as they scrambled in their comical fashio to the water then swim away.  In the distance one dolphin and her baby were feeding. In the sky, two gulls circled. We could only hope the natural predators missed these hatchlings and they would make it to the safety of the sargassum floats in the Gulf Stream.

I arrived home hot, sweaty, tired, and dying for a cup of coffee.  But inside I was feeling chuffed.  Not a bad morning of "twofers."  Two new nests and two inventories.  But we weren't finished yet.  I soon learned that two more nests had major "boils" or emergences the night before. The inventories for these two nests are scheduled for Wednesday...

And it's only early August!

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All the best,
Mary Alice