Back in April, I mentioned my concerns that there might be a problem with turtles nesting on our beach, given some work being done dredging one of the passes. Not knowing what the average number of nests was each season, my worry continued into May. Relief came in June as the numbers began to climb and I learned there had been 60 nests last season on the approximate 3.5 stretch of beach covered by the county’s team who monitor these. In April there were 20+ in the 2 mile stretch I walk each Sunday. By the middle of June we were up to 193!
I have seen a steady rise each week and am amazed at the little surge of pleasure I get when I see the higher number posted on the stakes around the cage. And, now I know to look for the footprints (or finprints, as I was reminded this morning) of the mother turtle climbing the bank and then turning around and returning to the water. If these finprints were older than last night, I wouldn’t see them because of our evening thunderstorms. I then know I am looking at a new nest, and I only have to check that number on the stakes. By the middle of July, we were up to 229! This morning we were up to 240! Of interest one week was seeing the finprints come up the beach and then turn and come back down without depositing eggs. Since there doesn’t seem to be any discernible reason as to how a site is chosen—often right next to another nest, or sometimes right in front of the entrance to a property—this is puzzling.
Two weeks ago, I saw the first of the hatchlings. Most of them had left the nest sometime during the night and these were the stragglers—about a dozen. The beach patrol monitor was checking the site and helped them into a container which he then brought down to the water. A hatchling is about 2-3 inches in size as they emerge from their ping pong size egg. The nests usually contain about 100 eggs and approximately 80-90% will hatch after 60 days. This particular nest was right on target as each nest is numbered and tracked. Unfortunately, only about 10% of all hatchlings will make it to adulthood. So out of the 240 nests, each with about 100 eggs, there would be 24,000 potential adult turtles, out of which only 2,400 are likely to survive, if that.
Turtles cannot breathe under water; they must come up every 4 or 5 minutes to breathe with their lungs. The hatchlings can be seen bobbing their heads in and out of the water to breathe, and until they grow, they will be food for any larger species of aquatic life. Turtles are also capable of what is called “cloacal respiration”—sometimes called “butt breathing”. In this case, that area of their body has a multitude of blood vessels which are able to take in oxygen from the water and diffuse carbon dioxide into the water. There’s no end to what one can learn. Right?
I’ve always felt some kinship with turtles, probably beginning with Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare—one of my favorites. I tend to be slow, but I am steady. I’ve also learned the turtle symbolizes many things in different cultures: patience, healing, wisdom, and courage.
We may still get a few new nests and the nests on our beach will continue hatching through late autumn. I did learn the hatchings don’t always occur at night; rather, they are more likely dependent on a drop in temperature. I’m hoping to witness one this season!