Along the southeastern coast we are in the hatching part of the sea turtle nesting season. Last night I went out to the beach on Isle of Palms, SC with my fellow Island Turtle Team members. Sitting on the sand under a foggy moon, being bitten by vicious beach ants, we watched as a loggerhead nest slowly rose to a boil. When that happens, the loggerhead hatchlings, already free from their eggs, begin digging as a group and rise together like an elevator from 20" down. At the top they rest for awhile.
From the top we see a concave circle in the sand.
Over the course of an hour, or 2 or 3, it's like watching a birth. Little bumps appear on top of the sand. Like contractions, the circle heaves and slowly the bumps get larger and I can see dark tips of heads and flippers emerge as the group below pushes upward. We watch expectantly. Suddenly something triggers the group that it's time to go! With a great heave the 3 inch hatchlings begin scrambling out, climbing over each other, flippers waving, hatchlings tumbling down the slope, a hundred or more of them, in a mad dash for the sea. It looks like a pot boiling over, which is how it got the name "a boil" When this happens, the turtles are healthy and vivacious and as a group they have a better chance at survival, fanning out across the beach, following the rules of predator glut.
It wasn't the best of conditions on the beach for them. The moon wasn't bright, and sadly-- and frustratingly-- some homeowner (who should have known better) left a bright light burning on her outside porch. It was a hassle getting all the hatchlings to the sea without them turning toward the bright light --and certain death. Plus, the sea was still far out and these hatchlings faced a long journey across two galleys to reach home.
But make it they did. My pals on the team, Mary and Jo, and Christi from the SC Aquarium and her sweet daughter Lillian were there to guide them to the water. The hatchlings were valiant as the waves tumbled them back, further up the shore. Over and over they righted themselves and headed straight back in, following their ancient instinct to swim.
They'll swim for three days in a frenzy, non stop, to reach the vast sargassum floats in the Gulf that will protect them from predators as they get bigger. It is estimated that only 1 in 1000 of them will reach adulthood. Of those survivors, only the females will return to our area beaches some thirty years later to nest and continue the cycle of life.
A long journey ahead, little turtles. God speed. I thank God I was there last night to witness the small miracle of nature. And I pray that I will be here --with my friends on the turtle team--to welcome the mama turtles home.
** Pix by Barbara Bergwerf from our picture book: TURTLE SUMMER. Published by Arbordale Publishing
MAM and Mary Pringle
Hatchling makes it to the sea.