Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The Sea Turtle Nest
If you look closely, you can see a sea turtle nest discretely tucked away in the dunes and the tracks of a UTV going past it. Each morning the patroler on duty will stop at every nest in their area to check for signs of predation. It's fairly common to find ghost crab holes around or near nests and a patroler will quickly fill them in. Ghost crabs are one of the worst predators of our sea turtle nests.
After 50 days or so gestation, patrolers will begin listening to a nest for sounds of scratching by placing their ear to the sand near the egg chamber. Don't worry, we put a towel or sheet down first! It can be a bit funny when tourists happen by and are concerned we've passed out or gone to sleep on the job. Believe me, nearly every patroler has such a story.
It's hard to miss the sound of hatchlings digging their way to the surface! And, as the sound gets louder, we know the hatchlings are close to emerging. Once they become active, the nest starts being screened and supervised during the night.
Several hours before hatchlings emerge we will see evidence of a 'cone' - a small depression in the sand immediately above the egg chamber. When we see coning, we go on high alert. Bio-techs and volunteers are almost always present to help the hatchlings make their way into the Gulf of Mexico and protect them from disorientation (heading away from the water and toward areas of light pollution) and predators.
This is turning out to be a record breaking year for sea turtles nests in our area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. After years during which the numbers of nests have steadily dwindled, and especially coming on the heels of the oil spill which was devastating to us last year, this has generated so much excitement for the Park and for all those who have a passion for these endangered marine creatures.